Archive for 2017

PPIC Survey Exposes deLeon’s Daunting Task

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

dianneandkevinThe finding by PPIC that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lead in the race for California governor is not news. But it’s an eye-opener to see that Dianne Feinstein is crushing state Senate leader Kevin DeLeon 2-to-1 in the race for her seat in the U.S. Senate.

Newsom leads Villaraigosa 23-to-18 percent in the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, with Treasurer John Chiang and businessman John Cox at 9%, followed by Assemblyman Travis Allen at 6% and Delaine Eastin, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction, at 3%.

The only really interesting thing that jumped out in the guv race poll was that Villaraigosa is killing Newsom among Latinos, 41-to-11 percent. That’s a big margin. While Newsom is way ahead in the Bay Area, 40-to-7 percent. Villaraigosa leads in the Los Angeles region 31-to-24 percent and by 29-to-9 percent in the Inland Empire.

gavinantonioIf Newsom and Villaraigosa are the leaders next June in the top-two primary, it will set up a classic liberal versus moderate statewide general election, with Newsom hoping to hold the white left and Villaraigosa pulling for Latinos and business-friendly moderates.

Note to Republicans: Since all the leading candidates are Democrats (your guys Cox and Allen are sucking wind), you could decide the outcome, a factor not lost on Villaraigosa, who has been cutting a slightly more conservative path than Newsom. Your chances of having a Republican to vote for in the fall are slim to none (and slim is on life support).

Left, Right and Center The Senate race presents deLeon with a much more difficult challenge. The race stands at 45-to-21 percent overall, with DiFi leading comfortably and a third of voters – most of them Republicans and independents wondering what to do — still undecided. Yet in that atmosphere, DeLeon is trying to run against Feinstein from the left, arguing that she’s been too soft on President Donald Trump.

But he’s even fighting uphill on that mission – Feinstein leads 66-to-16 percent among Democrats and 57-to-20 percent among liberals, for example. And when he turns to the general election, he’ll have to pull from the center and right. So, the more effective he is in the primary painting Feinstein as too conservative, the more he undercuts himself among voters in the general.

He could try to make the whole race about age except according to PPIC, Feinstein leads among voters aged 18-34 by 46-to-24 percent. Oops. And worse for deLeon, Feinstein is even beating him among Latinos, 48-to-26 percent — nothing like the ethnic edge Villaraigosa has over Newsom in the governor’s race.

What’s it all mean for anyone on the sidelines?

Democratic businessman and activist Tom Steyer will surely have to look at deLeon’s weak numbers and wonder if he’s missing a bet to buy himself into the race for Senate. But so too might billionaire Meg Whitman, the former chief of e-Bay and Hewlett Packard, who could easily self-finance a race against DiFi for the Senate. And as a pro-choice, anti-Trump Republican who’s just 61, compared to Feinstein’s 84, she would actually have a chance.

PPIC surveyed 1,704 California adult residents in English and Spanish, including 1,108 interviewed on cell phones and 596 on landline telephones, Nov. 10–19, The margin of error was ±4.3 percent for the 1,070 likely voters.

De Leon’s Dilemma: He’s Got to Attack Feinstein

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

deleonspeakingKevin de Leon, the Democratic state Senate leader who wants to be a United States senator has a problem: Before he can make a compelling case for himself, he’s got to convince voters that after 24 years, they should fire U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

It’s an axiom of politics: To take out an incumbent, you’ve first got to persuade voters that the person in office must go. Only then can you convince them you should have the job.

In his announcement on Sunday, de Leon didn’t lay a glove on Feinstein. Of course it would have been churlish and needlessly negative for a guy who’s a virtual unknown to most voters throughout California to open with an attack on the venerable senator.

But he’ll have to do it sooner rather than later. And it’s not clear he’s ready to do that.

As if to prove the point, when Maeve Reston of CNN, our old friend from the L.A. Times, asked de Leon to name two issues where he’s more progressive than Feinstein, “he said too soon to talk ‘details’” Reston tweeted on Monday.

dianne1De Leon’s Game Plan According to one de Leon campaign insider, this is intentional: De Leon, who is 50, first hopes to make the case for himself as a vital, aggressive, dynamic, energetic leader before he portrays Feinstein, who is 84, as an acquiescent, compromising appeaser whose time has come and gone.

Precisely what string of Feinstein votes and stances de Leon will use – for the Iraq War and the Patriot Act; against an immediate shift to single-payer, universal health care; her “patience” with President Donald Trump – has yet to play out. He might even call for Trump’s impeachment, which Feinstein likely can’t support as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

What he can’t do – overtly – is attack Feinstein as too old, although his strongest asset may be that he’s 34 years younger and she’d be 91 at the end of another term. “He doesn’t have to say and should not say she’s too old,” said Democratic strategist Garry South. “It will be obvious to people.”

South agreed that, if he wants to be elected, de Leon will have to make the case that Feinstein should be given a pink slip – and that’s no easy task. (And a lot of heavy-hitting Democrats are going to be really pissed off when he does.)

HMS oposition research completeHere Comes the Oppo “You’d have to go back and string together every vote Dianne Feinstein has taken in the U.S. Senate that may have been OK at the time but now doesn’t resonate with California voters. You’d have to paint her to be out of step with where Democratic voters are today.”

On the other hand, South said, even a strong campaign seeking to portray Feinstein as out of sync with California voters will be a difficult challenge: “Voters have elected her to the Senate five times!”

There’s little question that California voters in general, and Democrats in particular, are more liberal than they were when Feinstein was first elected to the Senate in 1992. But as Hillary Clinton’s comfortable victory over Bernie Sanders in 2016 demonstrated, it’s not easy for a left-liberal to carry California over a well-funded woman candidate – even in a Democratic primary (the Feinstein-de Leon match-up, of course, is an open primary).

And while de Leon should score well among Latino voters, Feinstein already has the imprimatur of the United Farm Workers union – a powerful endorsement from a group with serious credibility throughout the Latino community. (N.B. revenge, served cold: de Leon won his first seat in the Legislature in 2006 by beating Christine Chavez, granddaughter of St. Cesar.)

Donald-Trump-as-Julius-CaesarDiFi’s Trump Gaffe What Feinstein can’t escape are her public comments on President Trump during an interview with former U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher at the Commonwealth Club.

“Look, this man is going to be president, most likely for the rest of this term,” she said. “I just hope he has the ability to learn and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president. And that’s my hope.”

Already, that blunder helped fuel a Super PAC launched Monday by consultants Dave Jacobson and Maclan Zilber (whose former clients include de Leon) who cooked up a digital video attacking Trump and supporting de Leon.

“It’s clear that Washington’s status quo has failed. We need bold leaders who will stand up and say enough is enough!,” the video says. “Kevin de León has led the resistance against Donald Trump in California, showing we can lead the nation on climate change, better jobs, universal healthcare and immigrant rights.”

Whether de Leon can appropriate “¡Basta Ya!” and turn it against Feinstein remains to be seen. But unless he can, he’s got no chance.

P.S. Friend of Calbuzz Seema Mehta alertly reports in the LAT tonight that SCN strategies, the firm anchored by the relentless Ace Smith, now has launched a super PAC on her behalf: “We see the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. Senate under attack by political opportunists, and we are determined to fight just as hard for her as she fights for California,” said partner Sean Clegg.

De Leon Takes on California’s Most Durable Liberal

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

deleonnewWe interrupt our sabbatical to bring you this breaking news:

Ambitious but termed-out, Kevin de Leon, the 50-year-old state Senate President, on Sunday presented himself as a tougher progressive alternative as he announced a primary challenge to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, 84, one of the nation’s most venerable, influential and well-positioned liberal Democrats.

De Leon’s long-rumored candidacy sets up the prospect of a costly internecine battle in a secure blue state at a time when senior Democrats are urging donors to invest in House and Senate contests elsewhere that could wrest control of Congress from the Republicans.

“I am running for the U.S. Senate because you deserve a seat at the table,” he said in an email announcement. “You deserve jobs that afford your family a better quality of life. You deserve an opportunity for our children to have a free and equal education. You deserve clean air. You deserve universal healthcare.”

Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s chief strategist, framed the issue more bluntly: “What exactly is he gonna’ do that she can’t do?”

healthcareA key issue. The last item on de Leon’s otherwise stock Democratic agenda – universal health care – could emerge as a dividing line in a primary fight between Feinstein and him, and it also highlights a key stylistic difference between them.

“Universal health care” is a guaranteed lefty applause line, and during the last legislative session, de Leon passed in his own house and sent over to the Assembly, what he portrayed as a serious plan for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach in California. As a practical matter, the measure was more of an outline for a bill than a landmark piece of legislation, as it lacked a comprehensive plan for state funding.  When it landed in the Assembly, Speaker Anthony Rendon promptly bottled it up for that reason, and took heat from RoseAnn DeMoro of the California Nurses Association and other blowhard lefties for doing so.

“Kevin sent over a long press release, then went in front of the cameras while we were left holding the bag,” one of Rendon’s lieutenants told us.

For her part, Feinstein has been a supporter of Obamacare; according to Carrick, she also agrees with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a plan to add a public option feature to the Affordable Care Act that would allow people to buy into Medicare, a concrete step towards what the proposal calls “universal care.”

Of course, neither that idea nor de Leon’s notions about “universal health care,”will be anything but fantasies until and unless Democrats regain power in Congress. Still, the Medicare buy-in is the kind of incremental, step-by-step legislative effort at which Feinstein excels, but which has fallen badly out of favor among liberals who see President Donald Trump as an existential threat.

De Leon appeals to some Democratic liberals who view California as ground zero of the resistance to Trump and who have expressed frustration at Feinstein’s less-than-fiery, work-within-the-system opposition to America’s 46-percent 45th president.

In the simplest terms, when it comes to dealing with Trump, she wants to preserve and protect the furniture he’s trying to break; de Leon is for flinging it back at the White House.

dianne_feinstein1Breaking it down. Purely as a matter of partisan politics, it is counter-intuitive for de Leon to take on a fellow Democrat in one of the party’s safest seats in the nation, given the country’s current political landscape.

With Republicans controlling every lever of government in Washington, the Democrats’ top priorities for 2018 nationally are:

1) Flipping 24 Republican-held congressional seats, including at least seven in California, while hanging on to all their own, in an effort to win back control of the House;

2) Battling an extremely unfavorable Senate electoral map in a desperate bid not to fall deeper into the hole than their current 48-seat minority status; Republicans (despite their own little civil war) must defend only nine seats next year while the Democrats have 25 on the ballot, including 10 in states that Trump won.

Feinstein was first elected to the Senate 25 years ago and has remained, for most of that time, the state’s most popular elected official in public opinion surveys. Her re-election is the closest thing to a gimme that Democrats have in 2018

In that context, Pelosi said in a brief interview recently that “it is counter-productive” for Democrats of whatever stripe to pour into an intra-party primary fight millions of dollars that could be used in more critical campaigns.

That is why Feinstein, in announcing her re-election bid last week, had lined up the immediate endorsements of key liberal Democrats – including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris; ex-Sen. Barbara Boxer; Lt. Governor and 2018 gubernatorial front-runner Gavin Newsom; leading Trump Twitter antagonist and L.A. Rep. Ted Lieu, along with the United Farm Workers union. We’re told there are more like that to come.

trumpcrazyWhere’s the beef? Feinstein has angered many on the grassroots left since Trump’s election, because they find her opposition to Trump too measured.  Although she forcefully opposed the critical nominations, both of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she also has voted to confirm about half of Trump’s Cabinet appointments.

And while she has not hesitated to criticize Trump, she committed a cringeworthy verbal blunder during an appearance in San Francisco last month, when she said that Trump “has the ability to learn and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president. And that’s my hope.”

We know it was just the Convent of the Sacred Heart girl in her, speaking prayerfully about the Perfectibility of Man, but seriously, Dianne?


De Leon has picked up the comment, and now claims it as one rationale for his candidacy,

“We just have a two very different world perspectives,” de León told political writer Joe Garafoli Sunday. “The state has changed significantly over the past 25 years, and we’re overdue for a real debate on the issues.”

Three takeaways. Eight months before the primary, it is of course impossible to forecast how de Leon’s audacious move will play out. Here are some key factors that will shape the race:

governance_5Governance vs. protest. Feinstein is among the last of a breed of old-school, statesmanlike U.S. Senators, who believe in compromise and seek to work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to problems, a centrist political style that has been her trademark since she started out in San Francisco city politics in the 1960s.  With Trump, white nationalists and radical congressional Republicans now polarizing the U.S. more than at any time since the Civil War, however, some liberal Democrats may want a bolder and louder activist Senator who focuses more on fighting and less on legislating.

Old vs. New. At 84, Feinstein is older than her hometown Golden Gate Bridge; at 50, De Leon represents a generation of Democrats whose ambitions have been throtled by the longevity of elderly incumbents, including Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, Pelosi and, until recently, Boxer. Termed out and with no statewide office openings available to him, de Leon will try to cast the race as change vs. more of the same.

The Jungle Primary. As a practical matter, de Leon’s play will be to finish at least second in the June 7 open primary (top two finishers advance to run-off, regardless of party) and then frame the run-off with Feinstein as a traditional left-vs.-center Democratic brawl.

He will try to rally Bernie Sanders supporters (worth noting: de Leon backed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016; also in 2008 over Obama), Latinos and lefty activists like the California Nurses Union, around issues like single-payer health care, immigration and climate change.

That said, we were struck by this nugget tucked into the story about de Leon’s announcement by Mike Blood of the AP:

In a bitter Democratic leadership fight in the state earlier this year, De Leon sided with the party establishment candidate for state chair, Eric Bauman, over Kimberly Ellis, who was backed by Sanders’ loyalists. 

“Let’s not mince words: Kevin De Leon is no progressive,” Ellis said in a statement Sunday. She added that De Leon “embodies the worst sort of pay-to-play politics that progressives are trying to rid from our party.”

The open primary is tricky terrain; Feinstein is hardly a conservative on any of de Leon’s issues, and she also appeals to registered independents whom de Leon will struggle to attract; if Republicans find a credible Senate candidate, it’s easy to construct a scenario in which de Leon finishes out of the money in June. And there may be more candidates who jump in: investment banker and Democratic moneybags Tom Steyer, among others, is window-shopping the seat.

Back to nap time now.

PPIC Poll: Is Feinstein in Trouble? Not Likely

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

dianne_feinstein1Calbuzz interrupts our hiatus to file this breaking news report:

We don’t doubt the polling finding from the Public Policy Institute of California, released tonight, showing that 50% of likely voters say Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein should not run for re-election, versus 43% who say she should. But we doubt it means much.

At 84, Feinstein is not only older than the Golden Gate Bridge (as we’ve repeatedly, if  churlishly, noted before), she’s an old-fashioned moderate, a throwback who believes in compromise and genuine legislating, in an era when left-liberal Democrats and flavors of the week, like Kamala Harris, are making all the noise. And, oh yeah, Feinstein’s actually, you know, effective, plugged in and a power with which to be reckoned on Capitol Hill.

Which is why it would be a bad bet to think Feinstein can be beaten, assuming she wants to run again. And, for the record, we chatted with her at a social event recently, and came away unshaken in our long-held belief that, barring health issues, she’ll run for a fifth full term.

First, the numbers:

According to PPIC, 60% of likely Democratic voters say DiFi should run again, versus 33% who says she shouldn’t. In other words, even as an octogenarian middle-of-the-roader, she’s solid among Democrats (and even six in 10 liberals).

Of course, 75% of Republicans say she shouldn’t run again, compared to 19% who say she should. But Republicans constitute an increasingly dwindling sector of the California electorate and most of them wouldn’t want any Democrat in the Senate. It’s kind of amazing, actually, that nearly one in five likely GOP voter says DiFi should run.

If Feinstein has any problem in the numbers, it’s among independents, 58% of whom say she should not run and just 33% saying she should give it another go. That’s reflected also among moderates who are about evenly split on whether she should run again.

None of this screams re-election for Feinstein, but nothing in the survey suggests she could be beaten, either. As one Democrat close to Feinstein put it: “Those numbers are some of the best for any Senate candidate running anywhere in the country. Voters aren’t going to decide on her age — they’re going to decide on what happens in the campaign.”

Then Some History:

Let’s remember that back in June 2016, Bernie (Not-a-Democrat) Sanders, darling of the left liberals, was supposed to have been mounting a challenge against known Democratic moderate Hillary Clinton in California and was said to be within two percentage points in the average of final polling. But Clinton waxed Sanders 53-46%. And, of course, Clinton went on to win California against Donald Trump 62-32%.

California voters – despite their “left coast” reputation –historically like to elect middle-of-the-road politicians statewide. You could look it up.

And, of course, there’s the fundamental adage of campaigns: you can’t beat somebody with nobody.

Who’s going to beat her — state Sen. Kevin DeLeon,  a statewide unknown who’d bust his pick trying to raise the money it would take to mount a serious challenge. Entreprenurial wunderkind and non-profit activist Joe Sandberg? Puh-leeze. Let him try self-funding and see what a real moneybags looks like in the person of Feinstein spouse Dick “Big Green” Blum. Tom Steyer? Won’t challenge a fellow member of the ruling class.

We don’t believe DiFi can be beaten from the left or that a Republican can win statewide. Which means, early PPIC polling or not, if she runs, Feinstein will hold on to her seat in the U.S. Senate.

Now we’re going back to sleep.

P.S. If Dianne decides NOT to run, we’d like Jerry Brown for the job.

Death of Truth, Part IV: We Bother Because We Care

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

mussolinirump2shotIt gives us no pleasure to interrupt our sabbatical to lament, once again, the Death of Truth.

But when the president seeks to turn the Boy Scouts of America into his own brown-shirted Trump Youth Group with enough lies to put Joseph Goebbels to shame, when he seeks, with lies, to undermine public confidence in fundamental institutions of democracy like the news media, the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies, we feel compelled to slam shut the barbecue, crawl out of our yurts and scream into the wind.

Once Again Into the Breach It was more than seven years ago that we wrote:

goebbelscaramucciPerhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.

A candidate couldn’t say one thing one day – like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and another thing another day – like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They’d be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.

But in the California governor’s race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:

– The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it is barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.

– The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)

– It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they’re not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).

Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.

putintrumpOh But We Were So Much Older Then That was then. Today, the mainstream media are working hard to expose the facts and even separate truth from falsehood, and Donald Trump, the Prevaricator in Chief, is so vile and mendacious that even Meg Whitman – who sparked our outrage back then – has, to her credit, emerged as an implacable critic.

We revisited the Death of Truth in September 2012, when the New York Times, in its news pages, called Mitt Romney out for lying, and again in March of 2016, when Trump was emerging on a multitude of mind-altering untruths.

What is so disturbing is that even with the news media continuously calling out the lies emanating from Trump and his malicious administration, the balance of power in Washington still has not shifted. And it won’t unless and until Republican members of Congress feel threatened by an imploding White House. Or the Democrats take back the House of Representatives and Trump is impeached for – at least – obstruction of justice.

What will happen when Trump, as he is bound to do because he is a criminal narcissist, fires Robert Mueller and pardons Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and anyone else he has to in order to shield himself from further exposure? How will Neil Gorsuch and the other Right Wing Supremes rule when Trump pardons himself? Will any facts matter?

Not likely.

Which is why we’d have been better off to stay on sabbatical.