By Jim EllisJuly 17, 2018 — Five-term Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) lost the official California Democratic Party endorsement to her general election rival and fellow Democrat, state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), this past weekend in Oakland, attracting an embarrassing seven percent of the vote among the Democratic Party delegates.
Sen. Feinstein knew she was headed for defeat within the party structure formal endorsement process, so she was campaigning for the delegates to vote “no endorsement.” This ploy garnered more votes than she received, as 28 percent of the delegates supported the party taking no official action in the Senate race. Thus, Sen. de Leon received 65 percent of the delegate vote, exceeding the minimum threshold of 60 percent to claim the party endorsement.
The action means that de Leon will be designated the official party candidate on the ballot, obviously an unusual situation for a challenging Democrat opposing an incumbent of the same party. So unusual, in fact, that in no other race where two Democrats are facing each other in the general election, from the statewide contests through the state assembly races, did the party delegates choose the challenger over the incumbent.
In winning the party endorsement, Sen. de Leon will be entitled to direct party funding and access to the state party’s fundraising and voter databases. Though having access to these resources should result in him raising an estimated several hundred thousand dollars, such an amount is just a drop in the bucket as to what a candidate in the nation’s most populous state needs in terms of financial resources necessary to compete.
Even before the June 30 federal campaign finance disclosure deadline approached, Sen. Feinstein already had more than $10 million in her re-election campaign account. By contrast, state Sen. de Leon had under $1 million cash-on-hand.
Though it seems like a significant occurrence, losing the party endorsement is less of a factor for Sen. Feinstein than a headline about the story might suggest. While several thousand delegates attended the primary endorsing convention in February, a vote that resulted in no candidate earning the official party nod, Sen. Feinstein performed much better. For the general election, this latest party-endorsing event was open to only 330 delegates from across the state. Therefore, only 214 people voted to award de Leon the party endorsement.
In interviews with the Los Angeles Times, many of the participants said they supported de Leon because they wanted to make a statement about where the California Democratic Party should be headed, and there is no doubt that direction is further to the ideological left than Sen. Feinstein’s position who, despite not apparently being perceived as such by most California party activists, is still a reliable liberal vote in Washington.
In the actual jungle primary held on June 5, Sen. Feinstein placed first with 44.2 percent in the field of 32 candidates (10 Democrats; 11 Republicans; 11 Independents or minor party members); de Leon placed second, but he only managed to secure 12.1 percent of the statewide vote, far behind Sen. Feinstein and even further from gaining majority support.
Though the party activists may not be particularly supportive of Sen. Feinstein, she did well in the most recent general election poll. According to Survey USA (June 26-27; 559 registered California voters), Sen. Feinstein’s advantage was virtually 2:1 over de Leon, as she led 46-24 percent.
Ironically, in a race featuring two Democrats in the general election, it may well be Republicans, minor party members, and Independents who help Sen. Feinstein achieve a general election victory once more. Despite her own party snubbing her at endorsement time, the veteran incumbent is still an overwhelming favorite to win in November.