- Associated Press - Saturday, May 5, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - In her early U.S. Senate bids, Dianne Feinstein fought her way past Republicans who criticized her as an example of California liberalism. Now as she seeks her fifth full term in Washington, it’s fellow Democrats hitting Feinstein, led by a state senator who says he better represents California values in the Trump era.

If, as expected, Feinstein and Sen. Kevin de Leon make it through the top-two June 5 primary California will see its second consecutive all-Democratic U.S. Senate contest.

Feinstein and de Leon offer a sharp contrast in vision and experience.

“Being good enough sometimes is just not good enough with the existential threat of climate change, with the polarizing and ugly, divisive debate on immigration,” de Leon said in an interview with The Associated Press, arguing Feinstein has lost touch with ordinary Californians over her 26 years in Washington.

But Feinstein says she’s built up the credibility needed to get things done, even under a president that’s anathema to her party.

“It’s easy when you’re not here - you can rail at everything, and that’s fine,” Feinstein told the AP. “But the key is to pick a pathway where you make changes where you can, where those changes can be effective, and work toward a day when we have a different president.”

Two years ago Kamala Harris won the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer in a race with no significant Republican candidate. This year is the same. Of the 32 candidates appearing on the ballot, 11 are Republicans. None has completed the steps to receive the California Republican Party’s official endorsement and, more surprisingly, none has raised more than $20,000.

Neither Feinstein nor de Leon gained enough support to win the endorsement of the California Democratic Party at its state convention in March, though de Leon came closer.

Delegates who backed de Leon said they think Feinstein has been in Washington too long and hasn’t been a strong enough advocate for immigrants. When she spoke longer than her allotted time ahead of the endorsement vote, some in the crowd chanted “Time’s up!”

Despite that, Feinstein remains a heavy favorite. Polls show her with healthy leads and far more name recognition, and she has much more money to get out her message. She has banked $10.3 million compared to de Leon’s has $670,000. His backers include billionaire Tom Steyer and the California Labor Federation, which could spend heavily on his behalf but so far have made no commitments.

Feinstein, first elected in 1992 after serving as San Francisco mayor and running unsuccessfully for governor, ticks off a lengthy list of accomplishments to show she deserves another term, chief among them the 1994 assault weapons ban she authored. It expired in 2004, and her quest to re-authorize it has taken on new life following recent mass shootings.

She also highlighted a bill Trump signed this year that requires amateur athletics organizations to report allegations of sexual abuse. She is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key player in the Trump-Russia investigation.

“I have a certain respect here which enables me to get things done,” she said.

At 84, she’s the oldest U.S. Senator and would turn 90 during a fifth term. But she bristled at suggestions she’s out of touch and said her environmental record will appeal to young voters, including establishing two national parks, preserving the Redwood forests and securing federal money to clean up Lake Tahoe and her opposition to a private company’s plan to pump water from under the Mojave Desert.

“There’s project after project that I can say to young people, “This is what you should want,’” she said.

She’s changed her tune slightly since saying last year she hoped Trump could be a “good president.”

“I think this president is not well-equipped to be president,” she said. But “unless you impeach somebody - and the Senate cannot begin impeachment - they will serve their four-year term.”

De Leon said he’d vote for impeachment, and slammed Feinstein’s call for patience with Trump.

“This reflected a huge disconnect with what’s happening with a lot of working-class,” he said.

A former community organizer and educator, de Leon was elected to represent a Los Angeles district in the state Assembly in 2006, then to the Senate, where he became the chamber’s president pro tempore in 2014. He turned over the leadership gavel in March but remains a senator. He is barred by term limits from another term.

De Leon authored the so-called “sanctuary state” bill that passed last year, limiting local and state authorities’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He also authored legislation to require 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and supported a single-payer health care bill that died in the state Assembly. When Feinstein was weighing last year whether to support a short-term federal spending bill that lacked protections for young immigrants - she ultimately didn’t - de Leon criticized her for coming late to the issue.

De Leon said he wouldn’t be as hawkish as Feinstein, criticizing her votes in favor of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s and votes backing a government surveillance program. Above all, he argues he’s just more in tune with what Californians want.

“Seniority doesn’t guarantee results,” he said.


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