U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had almost $10 million on hand after winning a 44.2 percent plurality of the June primary election vote; Kevin de Leon had far less than $1 million left over after finishing second with just over 12 percent, enough to get a spot in the November runoff election, but insufficient to scare anyone.
Feinstein even won fellow Democrat de Leon’s own state Senate district in eastern Los Angeles County by a comfortable 10 percentage point margin.
De Leon’s percentage of the primary vote was somewhat less than the 12.6 percent won by the previously little-known Sacramento area Republican activist Elizabeth Emken in 2012, the last time Feinstein stood for reelection. Feinstein won a 49.3 percent plurality in that primary, and beat Emken that fall by more than a 60-40 percent margin.
Emken was a Republican, so very likely took almost all GOP votes in the runoff. But de Leon has positioned himself as far to the left of Feinstein as any Democrat could, and so won’t draw many Republican votes in November. One late-July poll indicated almost half of all Republican voters will leave the U.S. Senate category blank on their ballots.
Feinstein has never before run against a fellow Democrat, but two years ago, the moderate Democrat and former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County got 54 percent of Republican runoff votes.
All these items give the more moderate Feinstein a huge advantage over de Leon this fall. They help explain why de Leon has trouble raising money from Democratic donors, who would rather put their dollars into congressional districts the party might flip from red to blue, and not make an enemy of the formidable Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco.
Put it together and it’s clear de Leon may need an act of God to take over the Senate seat Feinstein has held since 1992.
The primary vote also indicates it will probably turn out to be irrelevant that de Leon had a near-victory with 54 percent support at the California Democrats’ state party convention last spring. That easily topped Feinstein’s support, and later won an endorsement from the Democrats’ executive committee, which comes with some plugs on campaign slate mailers this fall, plus monetary and volunteer worker support.
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This happened because the bulk of both party convention delegates and executive board members today are far to the left of both Feinstein and mainstream Democratic voters, as made clear by the primary results. The current makeup of the party organization is the result of a big push by 2016 supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during local party caucuses early in 2017.
In fact, exit polls in June showed Feinstein winning about 70 percent of all votes cast in the Senate race by Democrats.
And yet, de Leon does not appear fazed by the difficulty of the task before him. “Once people make the connection with me, they say, ‘It’s time for a change, I’m with you,’” he told a reporter after the primary.
But in this huge state, with population and geographic size similar to major nations like France and the United Kingdom, it’s difficult to connect directly with enough voters to overcome all Feinstein’s advantages.
So de Leon often lapses into the “it’s time for a change” mantra, code words for “Feinstein is too old.” She turned 85 on June 22 and is the oldest member of the Senate. But not even de Leon suggests that makes her ineffective.
“To say he has a message is a stretch,” said Feinstein’s longtime campaign consultant, Bill Carrick. “He’s trying to say ‘she’s not progressive and I am,’ but that gets shot down every day by what she’s doing in Congress.”
Feinstein is known as the Senate’s leading gun-control advocate, is a strong abortion supporter and on those grounds was among the first Democrats to declare opposition to President Trump’s newest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
The bottom line today is that Feinstein enjoys a lead of at least 22 points in recent public polling and even with a party endorsement, de Leon does not appear to have either the means or the money to overcome that margin.