- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2018

Republicans accused her of dirty tricks while the far left said she’d gone soft, but campaign watchers say Sen. Dianne Feinstein emerged mostly unscathed from the Supreme Court fight and is still on track to win re-election.

The California Democrat spearheaded her party’s efforts to derail Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, including what even Ms. Feinstein admits was her clumsy handling of the allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford.

Her election opponent, fellow Democrat and state Sen. Kevin de Leon, says she should have gone even harder on Justice Kavanaugh, and says her failure to prevent his confirmation is the latest sign that Ms. Feinstein’s best years in Washington are behind her.

Meanwhile, President Trump has led a conservative chorus who accused Ms. Feinstein of withholding the assault allegations then leaking them at the 11th hour, doing a disservice to both Ms. Blasey Ford and Justice Kavanaugh and fostering the nastiness of the last few weeks.

No new polling has emerged since the Kavanaugh confirmation vote, but experts said the five-term senator has not been pushed off her path to re-election.

“I would be shocked if Feinstein lost to de Leon. It’s true that her image was dented in the Kavanaugh episode, but she is a revered figure among the Democrats most likely to vote,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

If anything, Mr. Trump’s criticism may be countering Mr. de Leon’s challenge from the left, said Gary Jacobson, distinguished professor emeritus of politics at the University of California, San Diego.

“Getting attacked by Trump is a plus for her here,” he said. “I think her lead is strong enough in any case. If de Leon looks like he’s closing the gap, I would expect her to get some support from Republicans who would prefer her to him.”

Analysts also said Mr. de Leon may struggle to expand his base from the Kavanaugh fight, since those still fuming over the Supreme Court fight ditched Ms. Feinstein long ago. Meanwhile, Republicans who bother to weigh in on Election Day are unlikely to flock to the more progressive Democrat.

Mr. de Leon will have a chance to make his case directly to Ms. Feinstein next week when they square off for a debate, live-streamed from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The PPIC’s last poll in late September had Ms. Feinstein up 40 percent to 29 percent over Mr. de Leon — still a strong lead, but down from a 22 percentage point gap in July.

Hoping to close the gap, Mr. de Leon said the fact that Justice Kavanaugh made it to the high court proves the Senate needs new blood.

“The old ways of doing things don’t work, and comity for comity’s sake is far too risky when a woman’s right to choose is on the line,” Mr. de Leon said the day Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed.

Ms. Feinstein first learned of Ms. Blasey Ford’s allegations from a congresswoman’s office in July, but they didn’t come to light until The Intercept reported on them in September, prompting Ms. Blasey Ford to out herself to The Washington Post and testify on Capitol Hill.

Mr. de Leon said Ms. Feinstein was right to protect Ms. Blasey Ford but she exhibited a “failure of leadership” by declining to go public with the allegation itself earlier and fight Justice Kavanaugh harder during his confirmation hearings.

Mr. de Leon riffed again on the theme this week, pointing to the Senate’s deal to hold voters on a slate of Trump judges before ditching town for the campaign trail.

“Dianne Feinstein says she understands what’s at stake, but today took a deal to fast track more of Trump’s judges to lifetime appointments — even after Kavanaugh was pushed through,” Mr. de Leon tweeted Thursday. “Enough politeness. Enough patience. We need a fighter in Washington.”

Ms. Feinstein’s longtime political strategist, Bill Carrick, said Mr. de Leon is reaching for ways to make up for his lack of campaign funds and name recognition.

He argued that most California Democrats didn’t view the Kavanaugh fight as some kind of final exam to see if Ms. Feinstein could lead the resistance against Mr. Trump or should cede way to a new leader.

“I think it’s a made-up test [by Mr. de Leon],” Mr. Carrick said. “I don’t think we ever had that problem.”

He also thinks the Kavanaugh barbs backfired on Mr. de Leon, who had been accused by members of the #MeToo movement of dragging his feet on state legislation to help legislative whistle-blowers after a wave of sexual harassment claims rocked Sacramento.

Mr. Carrick said the Kavanaugh attacks on Ms. Feinstein dredged up those complaints.

“He got a full dose of that as a consequence,” he said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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