Feinstein’s trouble underlines Democratic Party’s shift to left

Feinstein’s trouble underlines Democratic Party’s shift to left
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records Democrats question if Kavanaugh lied about work on terrorism policy Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE’s (D-Calif.) failure to win her party’s endorsement at California’s state convention is triggering new questions about whether the Democratic Party has become the Progressive Party amid grass-roots enthusiasm driven by opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Alyssa Milano protests Kavanaugh in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume Bomb in deadly Yemen school bus attack was manufactured by US firm: report MORE

Feinstein won a paltry 37 percent in the weekend vote, and was trounced by California Senate leader Kevin de León, who ran to the left of the veteran politician.

Some Democrats are arguing that California is a special case, and that Feinstein’s struggles reflect an increasing progressive shift in the Golden State that isn’t necessarily reflective of the larger party. 

“I think the situation in California is very particular to that race itself rather than a nationwide trend,” said Democratic strategist Jon Selib, who served as chief of staff to then-Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusJudge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester Clients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana MORE (D-Mont.).

“You have a generational leadership changeover happening in the state, and California happens to be one of the most progressive-leaning states in the country.”

But others say Feinstein’s problems are just the latest sign that the Democratic Party is shifting to the left as a reaction to Trump, but also in the aftermath of the 2016 primary election victory of more-centrist Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Santorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI Giuliani claims McGahn was a 'strong witness' for Trump MORE over a surprisingly powerful challenge from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems RealClearPolitics editor: Moderate Democrats are losing even when they win Sanders tests his brand in Florida MORE (I-Vt.).

“If people don’t realize that all the energy and enthusiasm is coming from the left, they need to get their heads examined,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley said bluntly.

“The reason why Democrats are winning is because the progressives of the party are coming out to vote,” Manley continued. “And they’re doing that because they’re concerned about this president and the direction he’s trying to take this country. I get the concern that we can’t be alienating parts of the party, but I think it’s pretty clear that we as a party are becoming much more progressive.”

While that may be the case, there are signs that Democrats in Washington are worried the leftward tilt could cost their party as it seeks to take advantage of a possible wave and win back majorities in the Senate and House this fall.

In the House, it will require a net gain of 24 seats, some of which may be in centrist terrain.

In Texas, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) labeled one House candidate, Laura Moser, too far to the left and, in a rare move, released negative opposition research on her. The House Democratic campaign arm called Moser a “Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”

Moser, one of seven Democrats running to take on Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonDems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral MORE (R-Texas), fundraised after the attacks, taking in nearly $90,000 in just four days.

The DCCC also came under criticism from the left on Tuesday after HuffPost broke a story about a regional press secretary for the group advising Democrats in the Northeast to offer “thoughts and prayers” in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting last October in Las Vegas, instead of gun control proposals.

“It’s becoming evident that the DCCC — and the billionaire donors and revolving door consultants that make up the Democratic Party’s establishment — believe Democrats can only take back Congress running on a watered-down message,” the group Justice Democrats said in a statement criticizing the move.

Some Democrats suggest the party has to tailor its message to different districts and states to win.

In the Senate, for example, Democrats are seeking to defend seats in states such as Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia, none of which are seen as hotbeds for liberalism.

“Each state, county and district has to make political and policy choices that work for them while developing their road maps to ensure electoral success. What works in California doesn’t work in Alabama,” said Democratic strategist Scott Mulhauser. “While engagement is remarkably high across the country, each state and each race needs to find its own recipe to win in November.”

In pushing against Moser in Texas, the DCCC is arguing it does not believe she is the strongest general election candidate to take on Culberson. And in doing so, it is trying to make sure that Democrats don’t make the same mistakes as Senate Republicans, who saw long-shot candidates such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Todd Akin in Missouri emerge in past primaries only to lose in the fall.  

“What we don’t have happening is what happened to Republicans time and again where far-right-wing candidates like Christine O’Donnell or Todd Akin are beating credible Republicans in swing states, leaving them in risk of losing winnable seats,” Selib said.

Feinstein is still facing questions about the convention debacle.

Asked by reporters on Monday evening if the Democratic Party was to the left of her, she replied, “It is on single-payer,” referring to the national health-care system backed by Sanders and most of the other Democratic senators seen as possible presidential candidates in 2020.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBernie Sanders socialism moves to Democratic mainstream Biden: Aretha Franklin was 'part of the soul of the civil rights movement' Biden to Trump: If you think revoking Brennan's clearance will silence him, 'you just don't know the man' MORE — who some expect to run in 2020 — has said that he doesn’t think the party needs to decide to be either the party of the left or the center.

“There is absolutely no inconsistency between defending the right to [same-sex] marriage, defining the rights of women to control their own bodies, standing up for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and demanding safe working conditions, a living wage, sick leave,” Biden said at a political dinner in New Hampshire last year.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist based in California, said he is frustrated by the claim by some that the party has to move in one direction. 

“Can’t someone have a vision that incorporates all of these ideals and brings the conversation forward?” he asked. “What we should be aiming for now is how we become a majority party.”


Jordain Carney contributed.