Key to Feinstein’s Re-Election: A Beating Heart


We’re still vigorously scratching our corporate head, if not tearing out our collective hair, about a Fresno Bee piece that came over the mojo wire just before the three-day weekend, propounding one of the weirder political theses since one of us (we name no names) picked Dick Gephardt as the man to beat in 1988.

“Water a key to Feinstein’s re-election chances,” proclaimed the hed on this mysterious yarn.

Memo to the Bee: The only thing “key to Feinstein’s re-election chances” is that she’s still breathing come election day.

This odd political analysis was authored by Michael Doyle, McClatchy’s the Frezbee’s normally redoubtable Washington Bureau Chief Indian, who latched on to a new Field Poll to posit that Feinstein has her  “Valley work cut out for her” in seeking her fourth full U.S. Senate term in 2012.

Forty-one percent of Central Valley residents surveyed said they were “inclined” to vote for Feinstein, while 46% said they were “not inclined.” Statewide, 43% of Californians surveyed were inclined to support her; 39% were not.

It’s a comedown from her standing at a comparable time last election cycle…

Add it up, and the Central Valley is far more of a jump ball than the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where Feinstein dominates, or Southern California’s inland region, where Feinstein fares poorly.

Oy. Really? Deep breath. Let’s look at the tape:

1-The Central Valley has always been “far more of a jump ball” than the Bay Area  and Los Angeles, where she’s always runs strongest, and the Inland Empire, where she always hasn’t.

This therefore comes under the heading of “News that stays news,” kind of like “Tensions Roil Mideast,” “Council Committee Mulls Options,” or “Mass Slayer Was Quiet Loner, Neighbors Say.”

2-Feinstein’s decline in the Central Valley, as reported by Field, is basically the same as it is across California, a rather significant factoid that Doyle, to his credit, did report, but only at the end of the 10th paragraph, where it would not do violence to the thrust of his argument.

3-The piece cites a quarrel Feinstein had with some House Democrats over water policy in 2010, characterizing it as “a reminder that the former San Francisco mayor now represents – and needs votes from – a diverse statewide constituency.”

Huh? Feinstein served just over nine years as S.F. mayor, an office she left in 1987; she’s now in her 19th year in the Senate, having won four statewide elections, which seems kind of a funny time to advise that she better grow her political base beyond all those whacky people who voted for her in Baghdad by the Bay.

All of which is part and parcel of the much larger point, i.e. that far more than any other elected official in California, Difi has been up to her eyeballs in the tediously confounding conflicts and complications of state water policy for decades, squarely in the middle of every argument, compromise and deal that’s gone down since Mark Twain did or didn’t say that “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”

All of which Doyle knows full well, of course, which is why the piece fairly bristles with details that make that very point. Which is why we, for the life of us, cannot figure why Feinstein’s long record and nuanced positions on water, of all things, which have earned her respect on every side of this tiresome debate that has plagued political writers since statehood, is now suddenly proclaimed the “key” to her election chances.

Oh, one more thing: THERE’S NO ONE RUNNING AGAINST HER (despite our best efforts to urge eMeg Whitman into the race) who might leap to take advantage of this alleged threat to her “re-election chances.”

So: We are left to hypothesize reasons why the piece came into being:

a) Doyle got stuck writing a routine situationer on what’s up with water in Congress and put a political lede on it in hopes of fooling more people into reading it.

b) Hustling out the door for a gala July 4th weekend celebration, he somehow confused Feinstein with Barbara Boxer, who couldn’t find the Central Valley with a map.

c) The piece was intended to mess with Chronicle Washington hand Carolyn Lochhead, keeper of the Old Chron’s Difi flame, in hopes her editors would call in a panic and demand she match the story.

d) Our old campaign pal Jim Boren, now the F-Bee’s editorial page editor, rang up Doyle to say that Difi was ignoring him again so let’s fire one across her bow.

e) Jon Fleischman promised Doyle he’d get primo play at the top of Flashreport if he’d write something – anything ! – to help him and Grover Norquist find some poor GOPer to dispatch on the fool’s errand of challenging Feinstein.

Calbuzz sez: a) and d).

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There are 4 comments for this post

  1. avatar pjhackenflack says:

    We received this ripost from Mike Doyle this morning:

    Speaking of Mark Twain, wasn’t he the guy who said ‘never get into a fight with bloggers who buy web space by the barrel’? Or, something like that. I come, though, not to fight but to converse.

    I don’t think the Feinstein story thesis is odd or weird at all. The story doesn’t say water will be the ‘key’ to her election. The story, which is all I wrote, never uses the word “key” at all. The story says two things, right up top: water will “complicate” her election and, in turn, her handling of water disputes will be shaped by her need to secure Valley farm votes. i.e, she may tilt toward farmers. The story connects regional voting with legislative positioning.

    This may be a hackneyed or overly commonplace observation, because of the Central Valley’s perennial role as a competitive region. (Your Count One in the indictment, the ‘news that stays news’ part.) But, hey: new poll + regional angle + political interpretation = reasonable story.

    As for journalistic motivation: I can neither confirm nor deny my desires to (a) get editors to run my stories and (b) get people to read my stories and (c) mess with Carolyn just a tad.

    BTW: while I appreciate the characterization “normally redoubtable” — (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Redoubtable: 1. causing fear or alarm. Formidable. 2. inspiring or worthy of awe or reverence) — I am about as far from McClatchy bureau chief as can be imagined. I am but a reporter, a simple man.

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    First to Mr. Doyle: Part of the “charm” of Calbuzz is that they insult everyone equally.

    Second, I have to agree with Doyle that DiFi’s water stance will “complicate” her next election. This is because she has not done enough to satisfy agribusiness, and far too much to make the liberals by the Bay happy at all. I can’t say about millionaire property developer, long-time DiFi backer, water magnate, and purchaser of the Kern Water Bank–Stewart Resnick–who is probably more important in her calculations than anybody else.

  3. avatar GeoHagop says:

    Water you talking about. Sorry, had to be said.

  4. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Lordy,but I love it when articulate people start exchanging messages.

    OK, here’s what will happen: The Republicans will nominate some state legislator from either the Central Valley or inland Southern California. Said legislator will have an “R” next to his or her name on the ballot. Said legislator will lose. Republicans will then scream about elite, out-of-touch liberals.

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