Senator Diane Feinstein, facing a tough challenge from the left in the upcoming Califonia Democratic Primary, has picked up a “strong endorsement” from former President Barack Obama, who praised her as “one of America’s most effective champions for progress to the Senate.”
It is rare that Obama makes endorsements, so throwing his support to the longtime incumbent is a key signal to Democrats that he feels this is not the time to make a change.
“It’s his only primary endorsement in congressional races so far in 2018,” his spokeswoman Katie Hill told the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Feinstein, the 84-year-old former mayor of San Francisco has held her Senate seat since 1992, longer than any other woman in the Senate, and has rarely faced a serious challenge in her four previous races.
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Feinstein has a big lead in the polls among Democrats but she is running below her past levels of support and failed to get the 60 percent vote needed at the state Democratic convention to win the party’s official endorsement.
In fact, her Democratic challenger, California state Senator Kevin DeLeon, who until recently was president of the state Senate, got more votes (54%) than Feinstein (37%) at the convention.
Forced to give up his state Senate seat later this year due to term limits, DeLeon announced last October that he would challenge Feinstein, who he charges has not stood up enough to President Trump.
Since he took office, Feinstein has voted with Trump 26.1% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker.
Last August, shortly before he announced he would run against her, DeLeon blasted Feinstein for calling for “patience” with President Trump.
“It is the responsibility of Congress to hold him accountable — especially Democrats, not be complicit in his reckless behavior,” said de León said in a written statement, first reported by San Francisco’s KQED public radio.
This past week DeLeon jumped on Feinstein for comments about Trump’s plan to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
DeLeon has said the only answer to Trump is complete resistance at every turn.
Last week, DeLeon seized on comments she made to the Sacramento Bee about Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Feinstein told The Sacramento Bee, according to the Associated Press, a meeting between Trump and Kim would offer him a chance to “really show that he can be consistent, stable, a good negotiator.”
She said she believes Trump is smart enough to know he must use caution in dealing with Kim, whom she called “craven.” But she acknowledged such a meeting “could go badly.”
De Leon slammed her response, telling the Bee “Trump has proven consistently that he’s inconsistent, unstable and one of the worst negotiators we have ever seen.”
Feinstein leads in the most recent Berkeley IGS poll with support from 28 percent of Democrats compared to 11 percent for DeLeon.
In California, Democrats have a big edge in registration, but there are Republicans in the race as well. One of those is Patrick Little, a neo-Nazi with support from the KKK, who surprisingly polled 18 percent of the total vote (and 46 percent of Republicans) in a Survey USA poll done for ABC TV stations earlier this month.
In the Berkeley IGS, poll the top Republican was James P. Bradley with 10 percent, while Little did not register because his support was under 10 percent.
This matters because under California law, the top two vote-getters in the primary race, no matter which party, will run against each other in the November election.
Feinstein also has a big lead in fundraising going into the June 5 California primary.
As of April 16, reports the Sacramento Bee, Feinstein has $10.4 million in her campaign account while DeLeon reported only $672,000.
Besides Obama, Feinstein has a string of other endorsements from major Democrats both on a state and federal level, while DeLeon has endorsements from some labor unions and Hispanic organizations.
DeLeon scored an important endorsement this past week from LaOpinion, the Spanish language newspaper.
"Few Democratic senators are in a better position to hold the line against Trump's regressive agenda and to defend the state's interests. That's why California voters should reelect @DianneFeinstein to another term." The @latimes endorses Sen. Feinstein! https://t.co/UnSepPmK0P
— EMILY's List (@emilyslist) May 4, 2018
A spokesman for De Leon, Jonathan Underland, said he has a “great deal of respect” for Obama and added that the endorsement is likely a reflection of the pair’s time working together in Washington.
“Luckily the deciding votes in this race are in the hands of the people of California, not Washington DC,” he said.
Obama had indeed said in a statement about his endorsement of Feinstein: “She’s always been an indispensable leader for California, and we became dear friends and partners in the fight to guarantee affordable healthcare and economic opportunity for everybody; to protect our planet from climate change, and our kids from gun violence.”
In thanking Obama, Feinstein took a dig at Trump without mentioning the president by name.
“President Obama had the grace, wisdom and even-handedness that we quickly came to expect from a president — and that we’re now so sorely disappointed by its absence,” Feinstein said in a statement.
“I’ll do my level best every day to build on President Obama’s accomplishments and carry his torch forward, no matter the obstacles that stand in our way.”
DeLeon has even more progressive views on the key issues Democrats and Liberals traditionally have stood for and sought. He wants universal health care, backs renewable energy, believes climate change is a problem and supports laws to protect the environment, supports fair immigration reform and sensible gun control.
Feinstein also shares many of these progressive positions but has taken a more middle-of-the-road approach, often working out compromises with Republicans, at least before Trump.
20 million Americans gained coverage through the ACA and California’s uninsured rate went from 17 percent to 7 percent. Unfortunately, Republican sabotage efforts are causing the number of uninsured to spike. We must continue to fight to protect our health care! pic.twitter.com/iWOnn1qdLv
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) May 1, 2018
Since Trump arrived, and DeLeon challenged her, Feinstein has gotten a lot tougher with the president, confronting him on the need for gun control, battling against his tax cuts to benefit the rich, denouncing the decimation of environmental laws and more.
Under the Trump administration, ICE is no longer prioritizing violent criminals for deportation. Instead, ICE is now indiscriminately rounding up immigrants for deportation, tearing apart families in the process. We can’t allow ICE to receive more money to expand these practices. pic.twitter.com/Pvuh1h3hFe
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) April 30, 2018
Because of her age, her willingness to compromise in the past, there has been a strong move to get Feinstein to retire, but she has chosen to stand her ground and run again.
At this point, it looks like she will survive this challenge, but if she ends up facing DeLeon in November, which is a real possibility, and there is a progressive Democratic wave in reaction to Trump, anything can happen.
Having President Obama endorse Feinstein is a big deal but stopping Trump is ultimately what is going to decide how Democrats, and many Americans, vote this fall.