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Feinstein’s Team Isn’t Worried About State Party Snub

Neither Feinstein nor her primary challenger secured the party endorsement

The California Democratic Party did not endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein last weekend. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The California Democratic Party did not endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein last weekend. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein did not secure the California Democratic Party’s endorsement. But her campaign team isn’t worried.

“I think we’re in good shape,” said longtime Feinstein adviser Bill Carrick. “Nothing’s changed in the fundamentals.”

Feinstein’s primary challenger, state Sen. Kevin de León, garnered 54 percent of the vote at the party convention on Sunday, falling short of the 60 percent threshold needed to earn the nod.

With neither de León nor Feinstein capturing the endorsement, the convention ended without backing a Senate candidate. The party also failed to reach a consensus on other statewide offices such as governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. 

Though Feinstein’s team campaigned for the party’s support, Carrick said their primary goal was to make sure de León didn’t win the endorsement. 

“What we literally did was try to make sure that we ran a good campaign for the endorsement process, but our most imperative goal was to make sure he didn’t get it,” Carrick said. “I think everybody was pretty sober about getting to 60.”

Carrick said the endorsement was less about an ideological battle and more about the candidates’ relationships with the delegates and the time devoted to campaigning ahead of the convention.

But de León and his allies took broader lessons from the party delegates declining to endorse Feinstein.

“The outcome of today’s endorsement vote is an astounding rejection of politics as usual, and it boosts our campaign’s momentum as we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a complacent status quo,” de León said in a statement Sunday. “California Democrats are hungry for new leadership that will fight for California values from the front lines, not equivocate on the sidelines.”

De León launched his campaign as a liberal challenge to Feinstein, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Feinstein was not endorsed by the party that year, but she has received the endorsement since.

De León, who is president pro tem of the state Senate, has accused Feinstein of not standing up to President Donald Trump and not reflecting the Golden State’s liberal values.

“It’s clear that he’s picking up steam, and I think that it’s going to be a tremendous setback in terms of her ability to cement any sort of front-runner status,” California Democratic consultant Dave Jacobson said of the party not endorsing Feinstein. Jacobson and fellow consultant Mac Zilber launched a super PAC called “A Progressive California” to back de León.

The group had only $500 in its campaign account at the end of 2017. A super PAC backing Feinstein known as “Fighting for California” had zero funds.

“It indicates she’s being challenged by somebody who is a little bit more in touch with some of the activists,” one California Democratic consultant who attended the convention said of the endorsement process. “But beyond that it’s hard to quantify because he doesn’t have any money.”

Feinstein has a sizable war chest. Her campaign had $9.8 million in the bank at the end of 2017, including $5 million of her own money on loan. De León ended the year with $360,000 in cash on hand, according to Federal Elections Commission documents.

“We think the financial advantage we have over him will allow us to communicate in a much more substantial way than he will be able to with voters,” Carrick said.

Feinstein is also well-known among California voters, while de León has to boost his name recognition. A poll released this month by the Public Policy Institute of California found 45 percent of the more than 1,000 likely voters surveyed had never heard of de León.

Two-thirds of Democratic likely voters said they backed Feinstein, while 19 percent supported León in the PPIC survey. Thirteen percent were undecided.

Under California’s primary system, the top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary advance to the November election, regardless of party. So it is possible that Feinstein and de León could face off in the fall.

Jacobson expected the action at the party convention could help de León’s fundraising, along with recent endorsements from labor groups.

The Service Employees International Union branch in California, which boasts 700,000 members, endorsed de León this month. He has also been backed by the California Nurses Association.

Jacobson said Democrats in other parts of the country should take notice.

“I think that the broader argument is that activists and working people are fed up with the status quo in Washington,” Jacobson said. “California represents the heartbeat of the resistance against Donald Trump. … It’s clear that activists and workers are going to send a bold message of change and reform.”

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