Sen. Feinstein’s policy reversal suggests she’s taking de León threat more seriously

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s decision to challenge the 2018 re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, for not being sufficiently liberal in the Trump era is beginning to look more serious.

A poll released last week by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found Feinstein leading de León 41 percent to 27 percent among likely voters. The remaining 32 percent of respondents said they would not support either candidate or were undecided. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll released in early November had shown Feinstein crushing de León, 58 percent to 31 percent.

After the UC Berkeley poll was released, Feinstein reversed her position on whether to support a continuing resolution funding the federal government that ended up being approved by Congress over the weekend. Her initial support for the measure triggered scathing criticism from some Democrats because the resolution did not address the fate of the nearly 800,000 young men and women who enjoyed some legal protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program created by President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order. President Donald Trump ordered the cancellation of the program in September, effective in March, giving Congress a six-month window in which to make DACA part of U.S. law.

De León was the harshest critic of all, telling Feinstein “don’t came back to California” without doing much more to help DACA beneficiaries, known colloquially as “Dreamers.”

Feinstein’s flip-flop was covered in depth by the Washington Post, which concluded the 84-year-old and 25-year Senate veteran “is facing the most credible primary challenge of any Democrat up for re-election next year.”

The Post report included an interview with Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, the Berkeley progressive activist with a large following in California and nationally.

“By dragging her feet and reinforcing the notion that she was either indifferent or outright hostile to the plight of the Dreamers, Feinstein just gave de León a much-needed opening,” Moulitsas told the Post. “It just reminded core Democrats that we can’t count on Feinstein to do the right thing without having to pressure her to do so. In California, we should be able to count on our senators to automatically do the right thing.”

Is Steyer the real beneficiary of Democrats’ coolness to incumbent?

But two other recent analyses in California newspapers question the idea that de León has made significant gains.

A piece by the Bay Area News Group’s Casey Tolan reacting to the IGS poll suggested its biggest winner “might be somebody whose name wasn’t even part of the survey: Tom Steyer, the Democratic mega-donor behind a high-profile President Trump impeachment campaign who has been considering jumping into the race for months.”

Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan told Tolan that “the high number of undecided voters and Feinstein’s anemic numbers could be a big motivator for Steyer and other candidates. … She should be farther ahead. Someone outside of politics has to be encouraged to at least test the waters.”

But syndicated columnist Tom Elias noted the potential for Feinstein to be saved by the state’s “jungle primary” reform, in which the top two finishers in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party. Feinstein could lose more than half of Democrats next November and still coast to victory on the strength of Republican and independent voters who don’t want a Bernie Sanders-style progressive representing California in the U.S. Senate.

Whatever happens in coming months, Feinstein seems unlikely to have as easy a time getting re-elected as she did in 2012. That year, she defeated Republican Elizabeth Emken 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent, drawing 3.1 million more votes than her GOP foe.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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