Her mind made up, Fe­in­stein is ready to go

Some party mem­bers say her ap­proach no longer fits, but her al­lies think oth­er­wise.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Seema Me­hta

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein kept many in sus­pense for months over her de­ci­sion to seek re­elec­tion, but since an­nounc­ing her plans Mon­day to pur­sue a fifth full term, she’s made clear there will be no more wait­ing.

As she kicks off what could be her most dif­fi­cult cam­paign since 1994, some mem­bers of her party are say­ing Fe­in­stein’s mea­sured ap­proach to pol­i­tics no longer fits in a state that has grown markedly more lib­eral since she was first elected.

Her al­lies im­me­di­ately pushed back at such a no­tion: Fe­in­stein’s an­nounce­ment was fol­lowed by a fundrais­ing let­ter writ­ten by Cal­i­for­nia’s ju­nior se­na­tor, Ka­mala Har­ris, whose vo­cal op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Trump’s poli­cies have made her an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar fig­ure on the left. Then there was a sig­nif­i­cant union en­dorse­ment, and a Bev­erly Hills fundraiser Tues­day night with Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti, who warned against a “can­ni­bal­is­tic” in­tra-party fight.

Wed­nes­day found Fe­in­stein in her el­e­ment, up­dat­ing a River­side busi­ness group about for­eign, do­mes­tic and state pol­icy is­sues, in­clud­ing deal­ing with an in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive North Korea, the ef­fect on Cal­i­for­nia of Trump’s tax re­form pro­posal and the dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires in the state.

But as re­cently as last week, Fe­in­stein, 84, told re­porters on Wed­nes­day and donors on Tues­day, she was de­bat­ing what to do. She thought to her­self that she has had a good run rep­re­sent­ing Cal­i­for­nia in the Sen­ate for a quar­ter-cen­tury. She has worked her en­tire adult life. Maybe it would be good to take some time off to en­joy her sun­set years?

A con­ver­sa­tion last week with a close friend in Wash­ing­ton clinched her de­ci­sion.

“I came to the con­clu­sion that this is how I’m meant to spend my life.”

Fe­in­stein’s de­ci­sion comes as she faces chal­lenges she hasn’t en­coun­tered in pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

State Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León and bil­lion­aire en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Tom Steyer are strongly con­sid­er­ing chal­leng­ing her, ac­cord­ing to con­fi­dantes to both men. They could be driven by a restive and vo­cal lib­eral fac­tion that is ar­gu­ing that Fe­in­stein is too mod­er­ate to rep­re­sent the state that has

SACRA­MENTO — Cal­i­for­nia Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León is strongly con­sid­er­ing chal­leng­ing U.S. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, a fel­low Demo­crat, in her 2018 re­elec­tion bid, ac­cord­ing to sources close to the Los An­ge­les leg­is­la­tor.

One vet­eran Cal­i­for­nia politi­cian, who asked for anonymity to freely dis­cuss the mat­ter, said De León con­sid­ered a cam­paign launch ear­lier this week.

But the de­ci­sion was de­layed by Fe­in­stein’s Mon­day an­nounce­ment that she would run for re­elec­tion, which had been ex­pected later in the year, as well as by the wild­fires rav­aging the state.

CNN re­ported Thurs­day that De León in­tends to en­ter the race, at­tribut­ing the story to three peo­ple with knowl­edge of his plans. Sources close to De León told the Los An­ge­les Times that, while he is lean­ing to­ward run­ning, he has not yet made a fi­nal de­ci­sion.

If De León chal­lenges Fe­in­stein, it could up­end the 2018 elec­tion. Among the state’s pow­er­ful Demo­cratic elected of­fi­cials and in­ter­ests, the move would also prob­a­bly be viewed as a dis­play of dis­loy­alty to a wo­man first elected to the Sen­ate a quar­ter of cen­tury ago who is viewed na­tion­ally as a pow­er­ful and re­spected el­der of the party.

De León’s po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sors de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day, but a po­ten­tial run by the state Sen­ate leader has been the sub­ject of wide­spread ru­mors that have height­ened in re­cent weeks.

Ac­cord­ing to party in­sid­ers, De León’s team has been reach­ing out to la­bor and party lead­ers about a po­ten­tial mid-Oc­to­ber launch.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter Fe­in­stein an­nounced her plans to run again, De León’s col­leagues in the state Sen­ate were asked by his al­lies to “keep their pow­der dry” and re­frain from en­dors­ing any­one in the race yet, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions.

A top state Demo­cratic leader told The Times that De León called him a cou­ple of weeks ago seek­ing his ad­vice on chal­leng­ing the 84year-old Fe­in­stein. The leader, who also asked for anonymity to dis­cuss the pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, ran through the ob­sta­cles De León was likely to face, from his lack of name iden­ti­fi­ca­tion among the state’s vot­ers to Fe­in­stein’s wealth and abil­ity to self-fund a cam­paign.

“I told him de­spite all his no­to­ri­ety for all of his good leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments, most peo­ple don’t know who the hell he is,” the per­son said, adding that De León would also face a sig­nif­i­cant fundrais­ing dis­ad­van­tage.

Fe­in­stein has long re­la­tion­ships with the donors in the state, and is wealthy enough to fi­nance her own cam­paign. De León has raised money for his leg­isla­tive races, but could not trans­fer that money to a fed­eral cam­paign. And donors who are oth­er­wise sym­pa­thetic to his cause might shy away from him to avoid an­ger­ing Fe­in­stein.

Cal­i­for­nia’s se­nior se­na­tor last faced a tough re­elec­tion bat­tle in 1994. But in re­cent months, she has been crit­i­cized by lib­eral pro­test­ers who ar­gue that she is too mod­er­ate to rep­re­sent a state that has be­come home to “the re­sis­tance” to Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda.

Talk of a po­ten­tial pri­mary chal­lenge has grown so loud that on Tues­day night, the day af­ter Fe­in­stein an­nounced that she was seek­ing re­elec­tion, Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that such an elec­tion fight would harm the state.

“This can­ni­bal­is­tic ap­proach, that some­how we should be at each other’s throats right now … is wrong for Democrats and what Cal­i­for­nia should be do­ing right now,” Garcetti said as he in­tro­duced Fe­in­stein at a Bev­erly Hills fundraiser, be­fore tick­ing off Trump poli­cies that the state needed to fight, such as a tax over­haul plan that could hand­i­cap large states and the ef­forts to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Repub­li­cans im­me­di­ately seized upon the po­ten­tial in­tra­party fra­cas.

“Demo­cratic civil war is now out in the open in Cal­i­for­nia, and ev­ery sin­gle Demo­cratic House can­di­date in the state must pick a side,” said Jack Pan­dol, a spokesman for the Na­tional Re­pub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee.

“There is no mid­dle ground: Th­ese can­di­dates ei­ther sup­port Kevin de León and his rad­i­cal agenda in­clud­ing sin­gle-payer [health­care] and mas­sive gas tax hikes, or they sup­port Dianne Fe­in­stein and all of her Schumer-Pelosi bag­gage,” he said.

An­other po­ten­tial can­di­date weigh­ing a run is bil­lion­aire en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Tom Steyer, who be­lieves Trump is “an ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge to our democ­racy,” ac­cord­ing to some­one close to him.

“This is much, much less about Dianne Fe­in­stein — though like a lot of folks it shocked [Steyer’s] con­science when she sug­gested Trump could be a good pres­i­dent de­spite all the ev­i­dence to the con­trary — and much more about the need to chal­lenge the es­tab­lish­ment and the party or­tho­doxy to ac­tu­ally get the Demo­cratic Party back to fight­ing for peo­ple and not for the sta­tus quo,” the Steyer confidant said.

Steyer has flirted with run­ning for of­fice pre­vi­ously. He nearly en­tered the 2016 U.S. Sen­ate race, go­ing so far as to hire top Demo­cratic tal­ent and lock­ing down “Steyer for Sen­ate” web­sites. He is among the na­tion’s top Demo­cratic donors and could eas­ily self-fund a cam­paign.

But De León has been the sub­ject of the great­est spec­u­la­tion in re­cent months as he has vo­cally crit­i­cized Fe­in­stein.

He got his start in the early 1990s as an im­mi­grant rights ac­tivist, or­ga­niz­ing a mas­sive down­town Los An­ge­les demon­stra­tion in 1994 against Propo­si­tion 187, the bal­lot ini­tia­tive to cut off many govern­ment ser­vices to peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally.

Af­ter work­ing for la­bor unions such as the Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers Assn. and on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, De León won his first elected of­fice, a state As­sem­bly seat, in 2006 and moved to the state Sen­ate in 2010. He was the first leg­is­la­tor to chair the pow­er­ful Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee in both houses. In 2014, he was elected leader of the Sen­ate — the first Latino to hold that post in more than 100 years.

Per­haps more than any other Cal­i­for­nia politi­cian, De León has per­son­i­fied the state’s an­tag­o­nism to­ward Trump, ea­gerly em­brac­ing the mantra of re­sis­tance against the fed­eral govern­ment.

That pos­ture was most ev­i­dent in his sig­na­ture leg­is­la­tion of the year, the so­called sanc­tu­ary state mea­sure that cur­tails state and lo­cal law en­force­ment’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

STATE SEN­ATE Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León would face an up­hill bat­tle against U.S. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, a fel­low Demo­crat who will be backed by many party lead­ers and plenty of cam­paign money.

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