By Andrew Bowen
Delegates from the California Democratic Party made no endorsement in the 2018 U.S. Senate race at their convention in San Diego this weekend — a move that signals incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bid for re-election will not be a walk in the park.
Fifty-four percent of delegates voted to endorse Feinstein's main challenger, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who has successfully branded himself as the progressive alternative in the race. His campaign released a statement calling the vote "an astounding rejection of politics as usual."
Feinstein won 37 percent of the vote, while newcomer Pat Harris got 5 percent. Three percent of delegates voted for no endorsement. A candidate needs 60 percent of the vote to win the party's endorsement.
The vote count alone gives a small boost to de Leon, who is far behind on fundraising and name recognition. And progressives in the party are hoping he can have some impact on the state's representation in Washington — even if he doesn't win.
Feinstein got a polite reception Friday afternoon in an appearance at the party's Labor Caucus, where she focused on the legacy of her 1994 assault weapons ban and her status and influence in Washington. Her message stressed the need for Democrats to stay united in opposition to the Trump administration.
"There has never been a time [like this] when Democrats have to come together firmly to save this country," she said.
Speaking to the same audience, de Leon touted his legacy of helping pass the state's $15 minimum wage law and his collection of endorsements from several labor unions. In an interview after the speech, he brought up Feinstein's 2002 vote for the Iraq War — something many progressives see as a black mark on her record.
"The votes that are taken in Washington are consequential, because they're a reflection of the values of California," he said. "And I think the values of California today are dramatically different than they were 25 years ago" when Feinstein was elected.
Party delegate Pamela Harris from Oakland agreed that Feinstein was out of touch with her constituents. She said she still expects Feinstein to win re-election in November, but that she hopes the senator will be pushed further to the left during the campaign.
"She is absolutely far behind the progressive, liberal California that she represents," she said. "I hope [de Leon's] candidacy helps her see that."
Melissa Fazli, a delegate from Yorba Linda, said she appreciates the energy that de Leon is inspiring in the party's progressive wing. Still, she said she fears California would lose a powerful advocate for Democratic values in Washington should Feinstein lose her seat.
"They do need more progressive people" in the Senate, she said. "But the thing is you do have to have people in there like Dianne Feinstein that know how the game is played."
California's primary system allows the top two finishers in the June 5 primaries to face off in the November general election. Polls and fundraising data suggest a Republican is unlikely to make it far in the race.