By Jim EllisOct. 11, 2017 — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this week that she will seek a fifth full term next year despite, at 84 years of age, being the Senate’s oldest member. Curiously, her recent comments about President Trump and gun control have created some problems for the senator within the far left of her California Democratic Party. Thus, Feinstein’s decision to run again has engendered possible opposition from at least one prominent Democratic elected official.
Sen. Feinstein was first elected in 1992, when she defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour (R) after Gov. Pete Wilson (R) selected him to fill the Senate vacancy. Then-Sen. Wilson was elected governor in 1990, thus creating the vacancy. Two years later, Sen. Feinstein nipped then-Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) 47-45 percent in the 1994 general election, the last close California Senate race. She would go onto win easy re-elections in 2000, 2006, and 2012.
A few weeks ago, Sen. Feinstein made the public comment that Donald Trump actually “can be a good president,” which drew the ire of many of his ardent Golden State opponents including state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who seemingly has become the chief anti-Trump spokesman in California. After the Las Vegas shooting, Sen. Feinstein made the further statement that “no gun laws could have prevented the Las Vegas massacre.” Predictably, this comment was also met with derision from the far left, including Sen. de Leon.
Now it appears that the California Senate president may well launch an electoral challenge to Sen. Feinstein, but there are no longer party primaries in the Golden State. Rather, the “jungle primary” system places all candidates on the same ballot and the top two, regardless of political party affiliation, will advance to the general election.
With the Democratic state legislative leader continuing to make noises about challenging Sen. Feinstein suggests that we could see a year-long campaign between the two. Since two members of the same party can advance to the California general election, it is reasonable to project that both Sen. Feinstein and Sen. de Leon would be general election participants.
De Leon’s objections to Sen. Feinstein’s comments may ultimately be helping her secure re-election, however. There is no question that she will advance from the 2018 June qualifying primary and, assuming she would be facing another Democrat in the general, her moving more toward the center will aid her ability to capture a larger share of the Republican vote that has nowhere to go. De Leon moving far to the left of the ideological spectrum is likely, but perhaps crafting himself as an extremist in the eyes of the average California general election voter.
Despite Sen. Feinstein potentially drawing a credible challenger, her re-election is not in doubt. Though California campaigns can be exorbitantly expensive, they haven’t been particularly competitive during the past decade. While the new primary format adds a different complexion to California politics, Sen. Feinstein is positioning herself to use the new system to benefit her electoral prospects, understanding that she is safe from Republican opposition. Therefore, the current left-wing attacks against her carry the unintended effect of making the senator more acceptable to the general electorate.
The Feinstein decision to run again ends retirement speculation involving her. At this point in the cycle, it still appears that only Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) seat will be open for the coming election.