Feinstein gets progressive smackdown – POLITICO

 In Politics

California Democrats, torn by infighting between moderate and progressive factions, rebuked Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bid for a fifth term — for the second time this year.

The state party’s executive committee voted Saturday to endorse progressive state Sen. Kevin de León in the general election, signaling what many fear will be a divisive Democrat-on-Democrat battle going toward to the fall in California, where the party hoped to put the focus on a host of crucial congressional races that could determine control of the House of Representatives.

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The endorsement delivers a lifeline to de León’s struggling campaign — and the party’s imprimatur, which is accompanied by valuable access to slate cards, email lists and voter outreach machinery that will allow him to reach an estimated 2 million Democratic voters. And he could also get an infusion of federal campaign cash shared with the party, party officials said.

Feinstein, who was also snubbed in February at the annual state convention where party activists declined to endorse her bid for re-election, had pleaded for party unity prior to Saturday’s vote. She asked the executive committee of the California Democrats, the nation’s largest state Democratic Party, to choose “no endorsement’’ — what many saw as a strategic defense to head off an aggressive challenge for the party’s endorsement by de León.

And in an effort to frame the endorsement clash in the context of the national political landscape, the senator’s team circulated a “no-endorsement” plea signed by a half-dozen Democrats whose campaigns in contested California districts are a linchpin of the national party’s strategy to retake the House.

The final vote gave de León 217 votes or 65 percent — beating the 60 percent required threshold — versus 94 (or 28 percent) for the “no endorsement” urged by Feinstein, and 22 votes, or 7 percent, for the senator herself.

The Senate contest pits two contrasting pols: Feinstein — at 85, the oldest member of the Senate — and De León, 51, a former state Senate pro tem and son of a single immigrant mother. She is a centrist long at odds with her state party’s leftist activist grassroots, while he is a progressive who has called for new “bold leadership” from Democrats unafraid of confronting President Trump head-on.

“I think it’s always good to have younger generations rise up and assume positions of leadership,’’ de León told POLITICO Saturday.

His fight, he said, was not about “a gender issue…it’s not an age issue.’’ Pointing to progressive icons Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, de León said, “it’s about the right values.”

The weekend’s Senate nail-biter over the party’s Senate general election endorsement underscored the depths of the bitter divisions still lingering from the 2016 battles between more progressive backers of Sanders’ presidential bid and the more centrist faction of Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters in the nation’s most populous state.

While the endorsement involved just a small circle of the most activist voters — a 313-member executive committee in a party that represents 7.4 million voters — many Democratic insiders said it carried potentially dangerous implications for the party beyond the state’s borders.

Not only did the internal battle it threaten to extend the rift among Democrats in California — a traditional mother lode of campaign contributions — many Democratic leaders, like former state chair Art Torres, worried about the prospect of a circular firing squad.

“We have the opportunity to change the nature and the control of the House,’’ said Torres, a Feinstein backer, adding that a de Leon endorsement threatened that Democrats “won’t have enough federal money to put into those congressional campaigns.’’

“Federal money is the hardest to raise,” he said, “and if the party is going to spend money on a U.S. Senate campaign — why do it?”

For de León’s campaign, snagging the party’s endorsement was widely seen as his last shot at making a serious run at Feinstein. California’s senior senator pummeled him by 32 percentage points in the June all-party primary, winning more than 70 percent of the Democratic vote in a contest in which 32 candidates competed.

She has also dramatically outraised him: Feinstein reported $10.3 million cash on hand at the end of March, compared with $672,330 for de León, according to campaign finance reports.

But de León has gained traction among the party’s far left as the author of the controversial SB54, the California Values Act, also known as the “sanctuary state” law. The legislation, aimed at curtailing the cooperation of local law enforcement with federal immigration officials, was recently largely upheld by a federal judge’s ruling.

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