California Democrats have rushed to defend Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) as she gears up for her 2018 reelection campaign and faces at least one insurgent challenger within her own party.
State Senator Kevin de León, a liberal firebrand praised by allies and activists within his party, announced on Sunday he would challenge Feinstein for her Senate seat. De León's announcement increased concerns among Democrats who believe his challenge could expose "deepening rifts" and sap resources from their efforts to win Senate and House races across the country, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Democrats say fears could be magnified further if Tom Steyer, the liberal billionaire donor and environmental activist, enters the race. His candidacy would likely mean an expensive TV air war, and could deprive the Democratic Party of tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions if Steyer determines he can’t be both a Senate candidate and the party’s leading donor. The fears have caused a number of Democrats to step out and defend Feinstein while calling for party unity, the Bee reported:
"This campaign against Dianne is a campaign against the wrong person at the wrong time," said Phil Angelides, a former state party chairman and the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006. Angelides said he welcomes a debate within the party about its future. But he sees no upside to what he considers an "improbable" challenge to Feinstein, who he put in a class alongside California legends like Hiram Johnson and Earl Warren.
Dana Williamson, a Democratic consultant not involved in the Senate race, called the challenges a "distraction."
Feinstein’s challengers will contend a competitive statewide race between Democrats will drive up Democratic voter turnout and by extension tilt the balance in tight partisan races down the ballot, especially if they can force a Democrat-on-Democrat race in November, predicted Brian Brokaw, another Democratic strategist not involved in the race.
"But in reality, we live in a world of finite political resources. There are limits to voter attention and motivation, not to mention campaign contributions, volunteers, and other precious commodities," he said. "So while they have every right to run, it’s quite a stretch for Democratic challengers to say that taking on a party stalwart like Sen. Feinstein – and likely having to run a nasty, negative campaign against her – will be ‘good for the party.’"
Angelides, a Sacramento real estate developer and former state treasurer, recently co-hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and thinks donors should be focused on winning seats and holding off Republicans.
"Every diversion of even a penny away from that is a travesty," Angelides said.
De León has not directly criticized Feinstein since his campaign announcement, but he did push back against Democrats criticizing his candidacy by saying he "represents a different way of doing things."
De León has received support from Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), but support for Feinstein, now 84-years-old, has poured in from key Democrats across the state, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Reps. Adam Schiff and Ted Lieu.
Garcetti likened emerging challengers to Feinstein as the "enemy" and said they would detract Democrats from winning congressional races and expose party divisions.
The state Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman said if Steyer enters the race then he will alter the dynamic of the race and would have the "capacity to fund himself at whatever level he would choose to." Bauman went on to say he will not endorse any candidates during the Democratic primary, but will support the eventual nominee. When it comes to other Democratic races, he said he doesn't want to see challengers to Democratic incumbents because he is afraid it might cause rifts that could lead to another three years of an unchecked Trump.