Barbara Lee remains optimistic despite dismal showing in California's Senate race

Rep. Barbara Lee during Californias primary election

Rep. Barbara Lee was en route to Washington D.C. on Tuesday night shortly after polls closed, though she did not concede the race for the open U.S. Senate in California.

Lee remained optimistic when speaking with reporters at her campaign headquarters in Oakland around 7:30 p.m. and said she would wait to watch the votes in the coming days. 

Lee will vacate her seat in Congress at the end of her term, which allowed her to run for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat.

She thanked voters and volunteers who were phone banking for her in the final hours of voting, though she faced an uphill battle against challengers with more money.

"You can see the disparity in the money," Lee said. "I mean, c’mon. The establishment money doesn’t go to a black, progressive woman, but we have people and we have recurring donors."

For the past 26 years as Congresswoman for the 12th District, she's held tough representing Oakland and the East Bay. She was the lone vote to oppose the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. She’s fought for reproductive rights. More recently, she was among the first to call for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Her backers include celebrities, Bay Area politicians, and grassroots organizations.

"People understand that I see them, I hear them. I want to make their lives better," she said.

Lee was joined by the leading candidate to be her successor in Congress, Lateefah Simon, a member of the BART Board of Directors. Lee passed a blue baton to Simon, who was once her student when Lee taught classes at Mills College.

"I will never ever be able to fill your shoes in Congress," Simon said. "You were my professor, but you were so much more to me."

Simon is heavily favored to move on to the general election in November, but the race has not yet been called.

Lee boarded a plane for Washington shortly after leaving her campaign headquarters. She said she, "still had to do her day job" and said Congress needs to keep the government open.

She did not answer questions about her plans for the future.

Lee released the following statement after polls closed:

"Our campaign has always been about giving a voice to people who don’t feel heard in Washington — and I’m exceptionally proud of the grassroots, multi-ethnic, cross-generational coalition this campaign built across California to send someone who will fight for them and speak truth to power in the Senate. I spent today with my community in the East Bay, visiting vote centers and connecting with voters coming out to participate in the Democratic process. Part of that process is allowing the time for every ballot cast — every voice — to be counted, and I’m looking forward to watching the results in the coming days. My mentor and friend, the great Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said, ‘You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.’ Universal healthcare, climate justice, economic equity, reproductive freedom, peace and security around the world — these are only ideas if we don’t fight for them. They’re fights I’ve dedicated my life to. And seeing the passion and enthusiasm on the ground, willing to do the work and come out and join this fight — I couldn’t be prouder to know that progress is happening here in California."