Feinstein and challenger battle for coveted California Dems endorsement

Feinstein and challenger battle for coveted California Dems endorsement
© The Hill photo illustration

SAN DIEGO — Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCoalition presses Transportation Dept. for stricter oversight of driverless cars Saudi energy deal push sparks nuclear weapon concerns Liberals seek ouster of HHS official blocking abortions MORE’s (D-Calif.) main Democratic rival is looking to block the 25-year incumbent from scoring the California Democratic Party’s endorsement — and cites Feinstein's campaign activity months ahead of the primary as evidence he's a real threat.

State Senate leader Kevin de León (D), who’s running to the left of Feinstein, was vying for the endorsement on Saturday at the state party’s annual convention in San Diego. 

De León has rallied progressives and labor activists in his Senate bid, though he still lags far behind Feinstein in primary polls and fundraising. And his team acknowledges that it’s an uphill fight in nabbing the endorsement. 

“At this point, we’re under no false impression we’re going into a challenging weekend,” Jonathan Underland, a spokesman for de León, told The Hill. “It’s impossible to say what the outcome of endorsement is going to be.” 


Feinstein, who hasn’t typically been a big presence at conventions, has been reaching out to delegates over the weekend to shore up support. De León’s team credits his primary bid for getting Feinstein to be active this weekend.

“The endorsement is Feinstein’s to lose,” Underland said. “She’s really tripling down on this.”

De León and Feinstein are making their final pitches in the battle for the endorsement and working in overdrive to court the 3,400 delegates who will be voting on Saturday night. 

Candidates need to win 60 percent in order to get the party’s backing. If no one reaches that threshold, the state party won’t make an endorsement in the Senate race. There will also be endorsements up for grabs in the highly competitive governor’s race and other statewide races.

The endorsement allows the state party to direct funds to elevate a candidate ahead of the June 5 primaries. California has a top-two primary system where the top two finishers — regardless of party affiliation — advance to the general election.

On the first day of the convention, Feinstein and de León traversed San Diego’s expansive convention center where candidates gave quick speeches at a handful of caucuses.

Both Democrats stopped by the labor caucus late Friday afternoon, which drew one of the largest crowds at the convention.

Following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Feinstein focused on her record on gun control. Feinstein said last week she’ll introduce a bill that raises the minimum legal age to buy rifles. 

But de León got a much warmer reception among the crowd of labor activists. He touted his work in the state legislature, such as the fight for a $15 minimum wage, as well as his recent endorsements from influential unions like the California Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union's California chapter.

“Brothers and sisters, I am one of you,” de León said to the crowd, which broke out in loud cheers and applause. “Brothers and sisters, this is the battle of our lives. … This is a battle for the soul of this party.”

On Saturday morning, Feinstein headlined a breakfast among a large crowd of supporters. She got several standing ovations when talking about how to combat gun violence.

“I am not going to stop, ladies and gentlemen, until we get these AR-15s off of the street and out of the hands of people who would use them to kill others,” Feinstein said to roaring applause.

De León is hosting a taco luncheon Saturday afternoon. And both will address Saturday’s general session right before delegates start voting in the evening.

“I think for a lot of delegates going to San Diego, there’s going to be a lot of them who won’t know who they’re voting for until they get there,” Feinstein consultant Bill Carrick told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I think the endorsement would be a good thing to have. But we’ve seen plenty of instances where people don’t get the endorsement and still go on to win the primary.”

When Feinstein ran for governor in 1990, she didn’t clinch the state party’s endorsement, which went to her primary rival. Yet she still won the primary.

Bob Mulholland, a California member of the Democratic National Committee who formerly worked for the state party, said he’d be surprised if Feinstein got the 60 percent needed to capture the endorsement. 

But he argued that Feinstein, a veteran of the Senate and California politics, doesn’t need the backing in order to be successful in the primary and ultimately in the general.

“She ain’t coming here for name ID, she’s not coming here to pick up volunteers, she’s coming here because she’s the dean of our Democratic Party,” said Mulholland, who’s supporting Feinstein though noted that he’s friends with both. 

“Dianne knows she can come, talk about federal issues, talk about state issues. She doesn’t have to hit any home runs here this weekend. She just needs to show up.” 

Other Democrats who are running for Senate include defense attorney Pat Harris, who will also be competing for the endorsement, and activist Alison Hartson, who won’t appear on the endorsement ballot.