Un­der fire on two fronts

Fe­in­stein is a tar­get of her own party and now Trump. Can she ben­e­fit?

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Ja­clyn Cos­grove

With Pres­i­dent Trump smil­ing from the podium, the crowd chanted a fa­mil­iar slo­gan at a Repub­li­can rally in Iowa this week, but with a new tar­get in mind.

“Lock her up! Lock her up!” they roared of Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein af­ter Trump had spec­u­lated that the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat leaked a let­ter from Chris­tine Blasey Ford in which Ford ac­cuses Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing her when they were teenagers.

Fe­in­stein was get­ting the treat­ment once re­served for Hil­lary Clin­ton. But as she faces a re­elec­tion chal­lenge from within the left wing of her party in deep-blue Cal­i­for­nia, it’s hard to say whether it hurts or helps her cam­paign.

Af­ter more than two decades in of­fice, Fe­in­stein is fac­ing height­ened op­po­si­tion from some Cal­i­for­nia Democrats who ar­gue that she isn’t pro­gres­sive enough to con­tinue rep­re­sent­ing the state. Her op­po­nent for U.S. Se­nate, state Sen. Kevin de León, has ar­gued that Fe­in­stein is out of touch with what “work­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ans” need.

The dynamic of the race has made for strange bed­fel­lows — with Trump and De León, an out­spo­ken critic of the pres­i­dent, stand­ing at op­po­site sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum but both crit­i­ciz­ing Fe­in­stein. De León has at­tacked Fe­in­stein on a va­ri­ety of is­sues, in­clud­ing im­mi­gra­tion and her han­dling of the Ford mat­ter, ar­gu­ing she’s now out of touch with vot­ers in Cal­i­for­nia, where anti-Trump fer­vor is high.

“I know the nar­ra­tive for Repub­li­cans is she’s not con­ser­va­tive enough as a Demo­crat, and for Democrats, she may not be pro­gres­sive enough,” De León said in an in­ter­view. “But it’s not about mov­ing more to the left, or about mov­ing more to the right. It’s about mov­ing for­ward.”

One of the cri­tiques De León has voiced about Fe­in­stein is that she’s too will­ing to com­pro­mise.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with bi­par­ti­san­ship — that’s a good thing,” De León said. “But when you subscribe to the same coun­try club rules of the past 25 years, it hurts every­day Cal­i­for­ni­ans. She hasn’t

re­al­ized the rules of the game have changed dra­mat­i­cally in Wash­ing­ton with this new pres­i­dent.”

Fe­in­stein’s cam­paign has reg­u­larly re­jected the no­tion that she isn’t pro­gres­sive enough. She sup­ports univer­sal health­care and an as­sault weapons ban, and has worked with the United Farm Work­ers la­bor union to cre­ate leg­is­la­tion to pro­vide a path­way to le­gal sta­tus and cit­i­zen­ship for farm­work­ers.

“For months, [De León] has been say­ing she’s not suf­fi­ciently anti-Trump, or that she’s not pro­gres­sive enough, and none of that is true,” said Fe­in­stein’s long­time strate­gist Bill Car­rick. “It’s al­most laugh­able — be­cause she’s pro­gres­sive on all sorts of is­sues that are well-known to vot­ers, and the rea­son she got over 70% of the Democrats in the pri­mary to vote for her was be­cause they know that.”

Fe­in­stein has long up­set the more lib­eral wing of her party — but within the last year, she has of­fered up some sur­prises. In May, she con­firmed that she no longer sup­ports the death penalty, a mon­u­men­tal pol­icy shift af­ter decades of sup­port­ing it. That same month, Fe­in­stein told the Sacra­mento Bee that she “strongly sup­ports” a fed­eral law keep­ing the gov­ern­ment from in­ter­fer­ing in states like Cal­i­for­nia that le­gal­ize mar­i­juana use. Fe­in­stein had long op­posed le­gal­ized mar­i­juana.

Still, De León has crit­i­cized Fe­in­stein re­peat­edly for what he views as a lack­lus­ter record on im­mi­gra­tion re­form. In Septem­ber, he re­leased a cam­paign video that at­tempted to link decades-old state­ments that Fe­in­stein made about im­mi­gra­tion with cur­rent state­ments from Pres­i­dent Trump.

De León has said that com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form is a cru­cial is­sue for any Cal­i­for­nia sen­a­tor and has said he will make it a top pri­or­ity. It’s per­sonal to him, grow­ing up with his sin­gle im­mi­grant mother who worked as a house­keeper. De León has im­plied that his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence gives him more pas­sion for the is­sue than Fe­in­stein.

He grabbed hold of the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Fe­in­stein dur­ing the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings when news broke that the sen­a­tor didn’t im­me­di­ately re­lease a let­ter from Ford out­lin­ing the night she said Ka­vanaugh at­tacked her. Fe­in­stein said she was hon­or­ing Ford’s re­quest that the ac­cu­sa­tion be kept anony­mous.

The topic of the let­ter — and whether Fe­in­stein leaked it, which she has de­nied — has been a key talk­ing point for Trump at ral­lies.

In Iowa this week, he mocked Fe­in­stein’s body lan­guage when she was con­fronted by Repub­li­can sen­a­tors about the let­ter dur­ing the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings and told the cheer­ing crowd that he be­lieved Fe­in­stein leaked the let­ter. (The re­porter from the In­ter­cept on­line news pub­li­ca­tion who orig­i­nally re­ported about Ford’s let­ter tweeted that Fe­in­stein’s staff did not leak the let­ter to him.) Again at the rally, Trump placed Fe­in­stein among the seg­ment of her party that has said she doesn’t be­long with them.

“You don’t hand matches to an ar­son­ist, and you don’t give power to an an­gry left­wing mob, and that’s what the Democrats have be­come,” Trump said.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­perts point out that through­out her ca­reer, Fe­in­stein has been happy to be cat­e­go­rized as a mod­er­ate Demo­crat.

“Trump is not known for nu­ance,” said Jen­nifer Walsh, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and dean of the lib­eral arts and sci­ences col­lege at Azusa Pa­cific Univer­sity. “He paints car­i­ca­tures of peo­ple — both peo­ple in and out­side his party — and his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of her be­ing an ul­tra lib­eral is sim­ply not true. If you look at her record, she has been a very main­stream, cap­i­tal D Demo­crat.”

Part of Fe­in­stein’s rep­u­ta­tion as a mod­er­ate stems from her will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise, an ap­proach that matches the cul­ture of the Se­nate, where re­gard­less of party, law­mak­ers have long agreed to com­pro­mise to get any­thing done, Walsh said.

“If you re­ally want to get things done, you’ve got to have a mind­set that ‘com­pro­mise’ is not a bad word,” Walsh said. “And in Cal­i­for­nia at the state Leg­is­la­ture, you don’t have to. A Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jor­ity means [sen­a­tors] don’t have to com­pro­mise with Repub­li­cans on any­thing.”

Fe­in­stein has con­tin­ued to lead De León in the polls, but the dou­ble-digit mar­gin she holds has shrunk since July, when she led by 22 points, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by the non­par­ti­san Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia.

She leads De León by 11 points (40% to 29%) among likely vot­ers, with 8% un­de­cided, re­cent polls show. Latino likely vot­ers are di­vided — 40% for Fe­in­stein, 38% for de León.

And over­all, voter turnout for midterm elec­tions is no­to­ri­ously low. De León’s suc­cess will hedge on whether he can en­er­gize vot­ers in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he has a more di­verse vot­ing base, and, more broadly, whether vot­ers will see enough of a dif­fer­ence be­tween the two Democrats on the bal­lot — and then want to vote against the in­cum­bent.

In the clos­est thing to a de­bate likely to hap­pen in this race, Fe­in­stein and De León are ex­pected to dis­cuss their plat­forms Wednesday at an event or­ga­nized by the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia.

With Trump on the at­tack, some ex­perts say it makes sense for Fe­in­stein to sim­ply take it in.

“There is this paint­ing [by Repub­li­cans] par­tic­u­larly of mid­dle-aged, white fe­male Democrats as the devil of some kind as par­tic­u­larly un­trust­wor­thy,” said Jes­sica Lavar­iega Mon­forti, a pub­lic pol­icy ex­pert and arts and sci­ence dean at Cal­i­for­nia Lutheran Univer­sity. “So she can’t win — she can’t fight both nar­ra­tives, which is why it’s a smart de­ci­sion on her part to act like Kevin de León doesn’t ex­ist.”

Scott Ol­son Getty Im­ages

RALLYGOERS Tues­day cheer on Pres­i­dent Trump in Iowa, where they shouted “Lock her up!” in ref­er­ence to Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein.

Nati Harnik As­so­ci­ated Press

THE AU­DI­ENCE at a rally with Pres­i­dent Trump in Iowa re­acts Tues­day. He again placed Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein among the seg­ment of her party that says she doesn’t be­long with them — the more lib­eral wing.

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