Feinstein iced out by state Democratic Party leaders—they endorse progressive de León for U.S. Senate

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.

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