California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
A rebuke, a snub, a progressive smackdown—these are the terms headlining coverage of the California Democratic Party executive council’s vote this weekend to back liberal state legislator Kevin de León in his longshot bid to unseat veteran U.S. Dianne Feinstein.
Both are Democrats, but while Feinstein has become a Washington D.C. institution with a reputation in the U.S. for moderate, pragmatic problem-solving, de León has fired up the Democratic base by being a relentless, vocal foe of all things Trump. State party activists have long been lukewarm about Feinstein, but as she’s seeking her fifth six-year Senate term, more have grown adamant about replacing her with a younger, more progressive face.
Her campaign had lobbied the members of the state party board to remain neutral, but in this weekend’s vote at an Oakland gathering, 65 percent voted to endorse de León. Just 7 percent voted for Feinstein, while 28 percent opted for no endorsement.
So how much of a boost does de León gain from the decision of some 300 activists in the state party leadership? With the imprimatur, he can expect to receive some party campaign money, a listing on its official slate card, and access to other party support services like email lists. But the greatest gain is the symbolism of the vote, and the attention it will receive nationwide as evidence of a simmering split between Democratic progressives and moderates nationwide.
Feinstein, conversely, has huge state name recognition and has left him in the dust when it comes to fundraising (campaign reports show she has more than 10 times the cash on hand than he holds.) In the June primary, with 32 candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senate, she swept every county, racking up 44 percent of the vote to de León’s 12 percent.
The state party’s executive committee endorsement suggests its sentiments are further to the left than the larger group of Democratic delegates to the state convention in February, where Feinstein failed to win an endorsement but so, too, did de León.
But progressive leaders cheered him for authoring legislation that made California a sanctuary state, and calling for the impeachment of President Trump. “We have presented Californians with the first real alternative to the worn-out Washington playbook in a quarter-century,” said de León.
Feinstein has edged further left herself in recent months, reversing both her opposition to legal recreational marijuana and her support of the death penalty.
Because of California’s top-two rules, the two Democrats will be the only candidates on the November ballot.
State Sen. Kevin de León, a Democrat who is challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election this fall, continues to assail her response to a constituent’s accusation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying the explanation that emerged over the weekend didn’t mollify his objection.
“I don’t believe it was handled correctly,” de León said today in an interview with CALmatters.
Feinstein learned of the woman’s allegation in July but did not reveal it until last week, when the Intercept reported that Feinstein had a letter describing the alleged assault that she did not share with her Senate colleagues. Feinstein said she was honoring the anonymity her constituent requested, and had referred the issue to federal investigators.
De León—who last week called Feinstein’s approach a “failure of leadership”—said that if he were in Feinstein’s situation, he would have shared a redacted version of the letter with fellow Judiciary Committee members.
“I believe that Christine Ford’s confidentiality could have been kept and at the same time this issue could have been dealt with,” he said. “But it was neither. And it wasn’t until the pressure mounted, because of the press, because of the leaks, that (Feinstein) started acting.”
Ford, a psychology professor from Palo Alto, went public with her account on Sunday, telling the Washington Post that a drunken Kavanaugh attacked her during a party when they were high school students in Maryland in the 1980s. She said he pinned her down on a bed, attempted to take off her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream—allegations Kavanaugh denies.
Ford also said that although she reported the incident to her congressional representatives in July, she wanted to remain anonymous because she feared that going public would wreak too much havoc in her life. She eventually decided to tell her story to the Post, she said, because she was concerned her identity would be exposed in an inaccurate story.
Ford’s attorney told the New York Times that Feinstein’s staff remained in touch with Ford throughout August to see if she wanted to go public; she didn’t. Ford was happy with how Feinstein handled the situation, the lawyer said in numerous media interviews Monday.
De León’s contention that Feinstein should have handled the letter differently amounts to pure campaign politics, said her longtime consultant Bill Carrick.
“He is a classic losing candidate trying to create an issue out of nothing,” Carrick said. “Victims themselves should have the ultimate say-so on whether they go public or not. The idea that ‘redacted’… is not a violation of confidentiality is kind of silly.”
De León won the California Democratic Party endorsement this summer but trails Feinstein in fundraising and polls. He is challenging the Democratic stalwart from the left under California’s nonpartisan election system.
De León’s criticism of Feinstein has raised some hackles in Sacramento, where he was the leader of the state Senate during a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the statehouse. De León said in the fall that he had no knowledge that then-Sen. Tony Mendoza, his Democratic colleague and housemate, was being investigated for harassment—even though de León headed the committee overseeing the investigation. He repeated that assertion Monday, saying “there was an internal failure within our system.” Still, he contrasted his situation with Feinstein’s.
“I wish that information would have been brought to my attention, but that’s different than having information and documents within your reach… and not acting on the issue,” he said.
De León pointed out that he moved to overhaul the Senate’s procedure for handling harassment claims as soon as he learned of the allegations against Mendoza.
Political relevance is an unfamiliar feeling for Californians. But now the fate of the U.S. House—and whether it’s Democrats or Republicans who’ll garner the power to make budgets, launch investigations, and fend off or draw up articles of impeachment—might just come down voters in Orange County, San Diego and the Central Valley.
The problem for the average voter: California is a big state, and by our count at least 10 congressional districts are very much in play this year.
So today we kick off a weekly roundup of the most significant (or most funny or interesting or just plain weird) developments across California’s 53 congressional districts:
1. Newsom campaigns for Congress: Lt. Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom hit the campaign trail this week, but his focus seemed less on Sacramento then on Washington D.C. From Orange County up through the Central Valley, Newsom hit three of the most competitive congressional districts (CA-25, CA-21, and CA-10) and 8 state legislative races too. He’ll hit more districts on his way back down south. The goal is to bring about “presidential-level Democratic turnout” in these elections, the Sacramento Bee reported. Or, according to the article’s headline, “Gavin Newsom doing his best to pretend he has no opponent.”
Newsom may not be particularly popular in some of the state’s purpler districts, (in Fresno, where he campaigned with Democrat TJ Cox on Wednesday, Newsom lost the June primary vote to his opponent John Cox—no relation—by 17 percentage points). But as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, candidates still appreciate the media attention—and the gobs of money—that follow in Newsom’s wake.
2. Knife fight: A man allegedly pulled a knife on Republican congressional candidate Rudy Peters (CA-15) at an outdoor festival in Castro Valley on Tuesday. The attacker reportedly shouted profanities about President Trump at both Peters and GOP Assembly candidate Joseph Grcar (AD-20) before brandishing a switchblade. Authorities arrested 35-year-old Farzad Fazeli; no one was hurt.
3. The world’s most unadvisable aside: In Orange County, Splinter News unearthed footage from a February Voice of America interview with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) in which the Republican incumbent unnecessarily, cringingly redirects a conversation about the Chinese celebration of the Year of the Dog to note that he does not “blame (the Chinese people) for eating dog.” “I mean, if that’s what tastes good, that’s what tastes good,” he added.
Incidentally, the House of Representatives passed the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2018 yesterday, banning the slaughter of household pets for food. The bill passed unanimously.
4. Carpetbagger Watch: Democratic candidate Jessica Morse (CA-04) dropped $200,000 on a new broadside against incumbent GOP Rep. Tom McClintock accusing him of being an out-of-touch out-of-towner. McClintock represents the 4th, but lives in the 7th congressional district. It’s not a new attack against McClintock, who is now going for his sixth term and whose district (er, the one he represents in Congress) is among the most Republican in the state.
And as the Sacramento Bee reports, questioning your opponent’s hometown bonafides is a common attack in districts around the state.
5. Snub from the Birther-in-Chief: On Wednesday, the CNN’s KFile investigative news team dug up old radio episodes from far-right congressional candidate Tim Donnelly (CA-08), in which the candidate speculated that former President Barack Obama was a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This comes a week after President Trump endorsed Donnelley’s opponent, Republican Rep. Paul Cook, to the dismay of right-wing activists, who are now saying the president was “tricked.”
6. Gender gap: On Thursday, the American Association of University Women used newly released Census economic data to calculate the size of the wage gap between men and women in each state—and each congressional district. Incidentally, the three congressional districts with the biggest disparities (#1: CA-17, #2: CA-33, #3: CA-18), also happen to have among the highest average incomes (#2, #5, and #3).
In the lead up to this year’s primary election, no topic was the subject of as much hand wringing as California’s “top two primary.”
Democrats feared the dreaded “shut out” scenario, whereby a surplus of eager progressive candidates in a single race would divide up the left-of-center vote, leaving the top two spots to Republicans. Republicans faced the prospect that in a blue state, they would fail to muster enough votes to make the cut-off—and indeed, voters have once again been left to choose between two U.S. Senate finalists who are Democrats.
By allowing only the first and second place winners of the June vote to move onto the general election ballot, the top two system was supposed to bring bipartisan comity and sensible centrism to state politics. And yet, while Democrats avoided the nightmare scenario (Republicans weren’t so lucky), eight years after the change was introduced, ambivalence still abounds.
A recent survey of political insiders shows as much. As part of our Target Book Insider Track Survey series, we asked respondents for their assessment of top two. The results suggest that at least among those who do politics for a living, top two is far from an unqualified hit.