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By Michael Finnegan and Noah Bierman
March 20, 2015

After 14 years in Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank is finally getting the kind of coverage that ambitious politicians crave: CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC and NPR have all come calling in recent weeks.

Schiff’s newly acquired media platform — he was named ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in January — could serve him well if he runs for the U.S. Senate seat that fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer plans to vacate.

But Schiff’s high profile on foreign affairs, if not his whole career in elective office, is exactly what he would be forced to relinquish if he runs for the Senate and loses. He’s trying to decide whether it’s worth it.

Two other Democrats, Reps. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, are making similar calculations as they weigh whether to enter the race for a rare open Senate post in California. House members cannot seek reelection and run for another office at the same time.

“They’re all on the cusp of fairly significant seniority in the House, and they would be giving that up,” said John Lawrence, a retired chief of staff for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who spent 38 years on Capitol Hill. “The question is: Would they be giving that up for a reasonable shot in the Senate?”

Schiff, 54; Becerra, 57; and Sanchez, 55, have collectively spent 54 years elbowing their way to higher standing in the House. They’ve been waiting for colleagues to retire so they can move up, and they still face the constant threat that even after biding their time, rivals could outmaneuver them.

But with scant hope that Democrats could seize control of the House next year, they are also stuck in the relatively powerless minority. Democrats stand a better chance of retaking the Senate, so the potential leap may be that much more tempting.

For now, the leading rival for anyone who enters the Senate race would be state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat who launched her campaign in January.

Harris may be tough to beat. She has won two statewide elections. Her job as the state’s top prosecutor keeps her in the news on topics that she can hand-pick to maximize political gain.

She might end up being the only prominent woman in the race, a significant edge in a state where women tend to vote in bigger numbers than men. And her support is especially strong in the Bay Area, where she was San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011.

Yet many Californians still have little or no impression of Harris — she is unknown by more than half the state’s registered voters, according to a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. That leaves an opening for any opponent who can afford large-scale advertising.

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