Democratic State Sen. Kevin de León, 51, has one argument in his race to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 85: she’s too old. Which is not an argument he can make because it’s ageist, tacky and crass.
So he disguises his case against the senior senator: “It’s time for a change,” “we need new leadership” and the kicker — “she’s too weak on President Donald Trump.”
Nevertheless, in the June 5 primary, Feinstein stomped de León amid a 35-candidate field, 44-12 percent. With nearly three million total votes, Feinstein won 70 percent of Democrats, carried every county, and triumphed in all 100 state legislative jurisdictions on the ballot, including de León’s own 24th Senate district.
Yet in its infinite wisdom – after DiFi had already demonstrated her appeal – 217 members of the California Democratic Party’s executive board overwhelmingly gave its endorsement to de León — a guy who lost his own district!
In the most recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, among the 55% of likely voters who prefer that candidates push back against the Trump administration, Feinstein leads de León 62-25 percent.
In other words, those who most agree with de León’s campaign of resistance against the Trump regime would rather have the venerable Feinstein in the Senate doing the resisting.
So much for the collective mind of the armchair Marxists, Berniecrats, Sacramento hacks, county committee factotums, and sincere grassrooters who comprised the needed 60-plus percent majority of the 333-member “e-board” to hand de León an organizational victory that humiliated California’s most nationally influential Democrat — amid an election season with existential stakes for the anti-Trump party.
“The California Democratic Party’s executive board,” iconic political Democratic insider Willie Brown wrote of the vote in Oakland, “appears to be on a suicide mission.”
Fearless forecast. Termed-out this year, the 51-year-old de León remains influential in pay-to-play Capitol circles, an ambitious robo-pol with no immediate landing spot now positioning himself for the future with a cash-starved, long-shot Senate challenge.
As a practical matter, the Dems’ November 6 election pick will have little or no impact – or about as much as the party had when it snubbed Feinstein in the 1990 governor’s race primary after she voiced her support for the death penalty and got booed by delegates to the Democrats’ state party convention.
True, de León now may use the party’s formal seal of approval on campaign materials and also has access to lists and data for about 8.4 million registered Democrats. But unless felled by tsunami, quake, or medical emergency, DiFi will win a fifth full term,.
As a political matter, however, the action is still significant:
• For heavy breathers among the Beltway political press corps, whose grasp on California politics often revolves around hot expense-account restaurants, the Dem-on-Dem dissension fuels reportage about the party’s time-honored circular firing squad tendencies, a popular narrative of self-sabotage seized upon by pro-Trump media and spinners.
• For donors and campaign professionals, the saga serves as a distraction from California’s main political event — the battles for a half-dozen Republican congressional seats Democrats must flip in hopes of capturing the House as a bulwark against Trump’s absolute power; it also diverts Team Feinstein from the ceaseless Beltway battles where her prominent committee perches are consequential.
• For California voters, the episode offers new evidence of the historic weakness of parties in a state where individual media brands matter more than partisan organization. At a time when California’s Republican party moves ever closer to right-wing irrelevance, Democrats now tack hard leftward — while Feinstein, Jerry Brown, and both Clintons, not to mention battalions of pre–Proposition 187, pro-choice, moderate Republicans, have found the statewide political sweet spot is center-left or what we have labeled mas o menos liberalism,
Why they did it. In defense of KDL: De León is a hero to some lefty Dems, for whom Feinstein’s anti-Trumpism lacks passion and who credit him for authoring the pro-immigrant “sanctuary state” law. Unlike Feinstein, de León also voices support for single-payer health insurance and impeachment now.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, state Democratic vice chair and local party chieftain, said, using the nickname initials favored by de León fans, “KDL embodies our values.”
Larimore-Hall chafes at the notion that he and his colleagues blundered with their endorsement, shrugging off the near-unanimous support Feinstein has from Democratic heavyweights, from Barack Obama to Senator Kamala Harris.
“It’s not the job of the party to act as a rubber stamp,” he said. “A lot has changed in California and in the world since the ’90s, and [Feinstein] has not changed with it.”
The Democrats seem undiminished in their commitment to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
A version of this post was previously published at Newsmaker With Jerry Roberts. No animals were injured in its production.