CA Dems’ congressional delegation on borrowed time

CA Dems’ congressional delegation on borrowed time

Dianne_Feinstein,_official_Senate_photo_2Statewide, California Democrats enjoyed another dominant Election Day. But at the national level, a much different reality has set in for the party’s Golden State representatives. Generational turnover, retirements and a slow but steady erosion of public support have all undermined California Democrats’ position in Congress. The changes have created a significant possibility of a political shakeup to come.

Although California’s congressional Democrats have made a substantial mark on politics, their vigor has run up against one obstacle that even popularity can’t remove: Age. Sen. Barbara Boxer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both turned 74 years old; Sen. Dianne Feinstein turned 81.

Traditionally, younger legislative leaders have not had to worry much about unfavorable election cycles that leave them in office. For Boxer, Feinstein and Pelosi, however, their decades in office have left little time to wait for Democrats to recover Congress.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, while Pelosi has determined to press on as House Democratic leader, Boxer and Feinstein must both surrender influential positions they have likely lost the opportunity to recover. Boxer has lost her control of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Even more important, Feinstein has had to surrender her control of the Intelligence Committee. Although some Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul, have led observers to think Feinstein’s interest in oversight of the CIA and other agencies will be maintained or even expanded, the loss of her prominence has reminded Democrats that the generational turnover created by this month’s GOP wave could well be permanent.

Eyeing the door

California’s two senators have also encountered an unaccustomed shift in public opinion. Boxer has intensified suspicion that she will retire instead of seek re-election in 2016. Recently, according to the Chronicle, “she told reporters that she has served half her Senate career in the minority and half in the majority, and learned that ‘I really like the majority much better. Much, much better.'”

Boxer did not cite any polls, but her remarks underscore that most Californians have begun to consider it’s time for fresh representation. In new polling conducted by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times, in-state voters have indicated that Feinstein’s future is also at stake.

According to the Times, nearly 60 percent of registered voters preferred that both senators be replaced next time around, saying California “would be better off with new candidates for the two seats.” Perhaps predictably, a preponderance of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans agreed — almost 80 percent.

“But even many Democrats said it was time for new representation,” reported the Times, with 44 percent preferring new candidates — more than the 43 percent that favored Boxer and Feinstein again.

A new playing field

Few political analysts suggested that Boxer, Feinstein or Pelosi have become politically weak. Pelosi’s fundraising prowess and the established electoral advantage of California’s senators would be too daunting to overcome even for a Democratic primary challenger. Nevertheless, more plausible candidates from both parties could emerge over the next year if and when it becomes clear they would run for open seats.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have gone out of their way to indicate a willingness to work constructively in the new GOP-led political landscape. Feinstein recently pronounced her respect for incoming Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr, R-N.C.

And Boxer was able to work with her replacement, James Inhofe, R-Okla., on a previous transportation bill, according to Southern California Public Radio.

With GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy set to return as House majority leader, California Democrats have set their hopes on playing a role in legislation by keeping attention focused on statewide issues that matter to Washington.

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