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Feinstein CA Favorite Despite Snub     07/16 06:16

   LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California's forgotten U.S. Senate candidate has finally 
had a memorable moment.

   Kevin de Leon, a sparsely known liberal legislator trying to oust U.S. Sen. 
Dianne Feinstein, staged an insider coup Saturday by winning the endorsement of 
state Democratic Party leaders.

   The embarrassing snub to Feinstein was a testament to the leftward shift of 
California Democratic activists in the age of President Donald Trump, 
highlighting a long-running split between the party establishment and its 
restive liberal wing.

   But the benefit of de Leon's star turn --- occurring at a time when voters 
are thinking about the beach and barbeques, not the ballot box --- is likely to 
be fleeting.

   It's "the strongest signal yet of just how far to the left California's 
Democratic activists have moved, how emboldened they are by their party's 
dominance in the state and how much the Trump presidency has polarized our 
politics," said University of California, San Diego political scientist Thad 
Kousser.

   "But it's only a signal about the party's most activist core, not a sign 
that everyday voters are choosing a pure progressive over a pragmatist," 
Kousser said in an email. "It may breathe new life into a campaign that was on 
CPR ... but it doesn't chart a path to victory for a candidate who has always 
earned the strong support of activists while remaining a virtual unknown to the 
average California voter."

   So far, the state senator's challenge to the more moderate Feinstein has 
been largely an annoyance for his fellow Democrat, rather than a threat to her 
winning a fifth, full term.

   In the June primary Feinstein trounced de Leon, carrying every county in the 
state while he finished a distant second and struggled to break into double 
digits. California's primary system sends only the two highest vote-getters to 
the general election, regardless of party.

   With the endorsement from the state party's roughly 360-member executive 
board, de Leon will benefit from party money, volunteers and organizing help.

   But he remains a long shot.

   Feinstein is an institution in California politics, while de Leon remains 
largely unknown. She continues to hold a vast advantage in fundraising.

   As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, she is about to 
enter a sustained period in the national spotlight, as televised hearings begin 
on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

   De Leon fired out a fundraising appeal Sunday, highlighting his endorsement. 
He said the vote showed his campaign is a "real alternative to the worn-out 
Washington playbook," an obvious reference to Feinstein, who is 85.

   "It's time for a new generation of leadership who will roll up their sleeves 
and fight to advance a bold agenda," he said.

   With only two Democrats on the ballot in November, de Leon's challenge will 
be attracting support from beyond his liberal base. He has built his campaign 
around his support for universal health care, fighting climate change and 
recently called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

   While energizing the party's liberal wing, abolishing the immigration agency 
and overhauling the health care system might give pause to moderate and 
independent voters de Leon needs to mount a credible challenge.

   That rift in the national party's direction --- and the risk that comes with 
it --- was summed up in a speech last week by Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris 
Coons, who warned that Democrats need to stress pragmatic ideas, not 
"pie-in-the-sky" promises. He cautioned against proposals "that might sound 
great in a tweet, like free college and free health care."

   De Leon's endorsement follows the victory last month of Alexandria 
Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old political novice running on a liberal platform, 
over longtime U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York.

   The deep split in the party was witnessed in the 2016 presidential contest 
between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And in the California party, 
liberal favorite Kimberly Ellis nearly captured the organization's top job last 
year.

   Longtime Democratic National Committee member Bob Mulholland, who supports 
Feinstein, noted that in 1990, when Feinstein was running for governor, the 
state party endorsed a rival Democrat, John Van de Kamp. Feinstein went on to 
win the Democratic primary, but ultimately lost to Republican Pete Wilson.

   Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney said Feinstein 
retains significant advantages and is positioned to collect most Republican 
votes in November, with only two Democrats on the ballot.

   But an upset remains possible, if unlikely.

   "If she fares poorly on the campaign trail or makes embarrassing gaffes, de 
Leon could pick up support from voters who think that he would be stronger 
champion against Trump," Pitney said in an email.


(KA)

 
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