Inside the crowded field of L.A. congressional candidates in the race to replace Schiff

Five people sitting in directors chairs on a stage with most wearing suits.
From left: Former Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, G. “Maebe A. Girl” Pudlo, Los Angeles Unified School District board member Nick Melvoin and state Sen. Anthony Portantino debate during a recent forum at Wilshire Ebell Theater.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The last time there was a competitive race for the congressional district now known as California’s 30th, Santana was topping the charts, Steve Jobs had just introduced Mac OS X and a Republican was the mayor of Los Angeles.

The year was 2000 and then-state Sen. Adam Schiff was challenging incumbent Republican Rep. James Rogan, who’d become a national star and liberal bugbear for leading impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Rogan’s impeachment fame, a record-breaking gusher of outside money and the possibility of flipping a coveted House seat from Republican to Democrat made it among the highest-profile House races in the country that year.

The end result now seems like fait accompli: The crowd in the ballroom of a Pasadena Hilton went wild just before 1 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2000, as Schiff declared victory. The now-ubiquitous California politician would skate through the next 11 election cycles without facing a serious challenger.

Nearly a quarter-century after his initial conquest, Schiff’s departure for a Senate run has opened the floodgates, with 15 people vying to replace him and represent a district that includes a wide swath of the city of Los Angeles, all of West Hollywood, Glendale and Burbank, and part of Pasadena.


But the prize in 2024 looks very different than it did in 2000: The victor will preside over an overwhelmingly safe blue stronghold, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3-to-1. It’s a rare open seat that could easily be represented by the winner for decades to come.

Amid a heated presidential election and the race to fill the Senate seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, many voters are just beginning to pay attention to the army of candidates in the 30th. The field includes state elected officials, a school board member, the former mayor of West Hollywood, a trans activist, a former child star, an intensive care physician and several others.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), former L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer and L.A. Unified school board member Nick Melvoin are largely viewed as the most competitive candidates: They have all raised more than or close to $1 million and previously represented hundreds of thousands constituents in districts that at least partially overlap with the 30th congressional district.

Ben Savage, the actor who played Cory Matthews on the ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World,” has also put more than $1 million into his campaign, and enjoys some name recognition and a robust canvassing program, making him difficult to discount entirely. But he finished seventh in his 2022 race for City Council in the 34,500-person city of West Hollywood, so winning in a much larger, more competitive congressional race may be challenging.

Democrats Mike Feuer, Laura Friedman and Anthony Portantino are among the leading candidates to succeed Schiff in a very blue district.

Feb. 1, 2024

There is not much space between the leading elected officials on the major issues: All are longtime Democrats who vociferously support abortion rights and gun control, vow to combat climate change and pledge to uphold Democratic values in Washington, D.C. Their political differences can be measured in degrees, rather than broad strokes.


The top two finishers in the March 5 primary election will continue on to the November ballot — a general election race that will almost certainly be a Democrat on Democrat battle.

“These crowded fields are very hard to predict in terms of who will make it through and who won’t,” said Marva Diaz, a political consultant and publisher of the election guide California Target Book.

Diaz stressed that on-the-ground field campaigns would be particularly important in such a crowded race, particularly with literature filling voter mailboxes.

Portantino, a well-known state lawmaker who chairs the Senate’s powerful Appropriations Committee, has raised the most in the field, bringing in more than $1.4 million as of Dec. 31, according to federal campaign finance filings.

Anthony Portantino seated
California state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank) in March 2023.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Portantino also has the backing of the state’s most powerful labor organizations, which could be a major boon in a general election, since such groups often provide field support to their favored candidates. Last week, Portantino reintroduced a bill sponsored by the California Labor Federation, which seeks to provide unemployment insurance benefits for striking workers — a political move more likely to further burnish relationships than change policy, since Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure last year.


Melvoin, a Harvard-educated two-term school board member who was first elected with the help of charter school backers, has raised about $1.3 million as has Feuer, a longtime lawmaker who has also served on Los Angeles City Council and in the state Assembly.

Friedman had raised just over $930,000 during the same filing period. Three other candidates — West Hollywood City Council member Sepi Shyne, public health advocate Jirair Ratevosian and Silver Lake Neighborhood Council member G. “Maebe A. Girl” Pudlo — had raised more than $100,000 as of the most recent filing deadline.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in a bucolic Beachwood Canyon backyard, a group of older Hollywood Hills residents listened intently as Friedman made her pitch.

“I’m going to do what’s sometimes uncomfortable for women. I’m going to talk about my accomplishments,” Friedman told the crowd, before recounting her leadership on climate and sustainability issues in the Legislature.

Laura Friedman
Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) with fellow lawmakers in March 2023.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The caveat was almost certainly not one that her prominent male competitors would have contended with. But Friedman — a former film executive turned politician — has made her gender an element of her campaign, frequently noting that she would be the first woman to hold the seat and underscoring the importance of having women in leadership positions “when abortion rights are on the table” during a recent debate.


She has taken a somewhat unorthodox slant in her advertising, highlighting her background as a semiprofessional pool player in a digital ad and a mailer sent to nearly 100,000 households.

Feuer and Portantino, the only two candidates who appear to be advertising on the far more expensive television airwaves as of yet, have taken very different approaches.

Portantino has a poignant 30-second spot that focuses on Mia Tretta, a teenage survivor of the 2019 Saugus High School shooting. Looking directly into the camera, Tretta tells viewers that “lots of politicians sent thoughts and prayers, but Anthony Portantino took action and passed laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them and banned guns for anyone under 21.”

Jan Wieringa, an undecided voter sitting in the audience at a recent candidate forum, said Portantino’s ad had resonated deeply with her.

“That really made me take notice,” the film producer said of the ad.

Like Portantino, Feuer has also stressed his advocacy on gun control, touting the endorsement of former Rep. Gabby Giffords and his work as a prosecutor tackling gun violence.

Mike Feuer in front of City Hall
Then-City Atty. and mayoral candidate Mike Feuer at a press conference in front of L.A. City Hall in November 2021.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Feuer appears most eager to publicly cast himself in a Schiff-ian mold, emphasizing his own prior battles with President Trump as city attorney. He has made defending democracy a central theme of his campaign, characterizing himself as “the only candidate in this race to have fought authoritarianism and stood up for democracy.”

Feuer received a major boost from his former competitor, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who endorsed him early in the race and recorded an ad singing his praises on domestic violence and elder abuse protections, Trump fights and other advocacy. Feuer dropped out of the 2022 mayoral race weeks before the primary to endorse Bass.


Melvoin — who, at 38, is a generation younger than the other elected officials — has put generational change at the forefront of his campaign. His own 30-second campaign spot, which is running digitally and on streaming platforms, pairs him opposite a middle-aged actor playing a bland career politician “running for Congress because that’s what career politicians do.”

Schiff has yet to endorse in the crowded primary and is unlikely to do so given his own competitive battle for Senate.