Two of California's largest and most vocal labor unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of California and the California Nurses Association, endorsed Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D., Calif.) Democratic primary opponent this week.
The endorsements come at a particularly beneficial time for state Senator Kevin de León, a 51-year-old Democrat from Los Angeles, who announced his intention in October to challenge the 84-year-old Feinstein in the 2018 primary.
De León, who has served as president pro tempore of the California State Senate since 2014, is running a progressive insurgency campaign to prevent Feinstein from being elected to a full fifth term. His progressive credentials, which include pushing California to adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage, strengthening environmental regulation in response to climate change, and protecting illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities, are likely to play well with an increasingly left-leaning Democratic base.
Breaking: SEIU California endorses @kdeleon for U.S. Senate – a champion who has stood up for us and our California values again and again and now we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder and endorse Kevin de León to be our next U.S. Senator.https://t.co/PlVF5oGmI1
— SEIU California (@SEIU_California) February 14, 2018
SEIU, which constitutes 700,000 members across California, said it endorsed de León because his leadership and understanding of the most "pressing challenges" facing people stands "in stark contrast with the dysfunctional political establishment in Washington, D.C." The union's endorsement reads like something one could expect during a general election campaign between a Republican and Democrat, rather than a primary featuring contenders from the same party.
"Kevin de León is a leader who speaks up for California values. His leadership on the most pressing challenges facing California stands in stark contrast with the dysfunctional political establishment in Washington, D.C.," David Huerta, an executive board member of SEIU California, said in a statement. "He’s stood up for us and our California values again and again and now we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder and endorse Kevin de León to be our next U.S. Senator."
Feinstein has served in the U.S. Senate since 1992 and announced her reelection bid in early October, shortly before de León announced his intent to challenge. Her decision came despite calls from some in the party for new blood, but others said de León's campaign was "against the wrong person at the wrong time."
De León took a shot at Feinstein when accepting SEIU's endorsement, seeming to imply California's senior senator was "just another party-line vote in Washington." He also called on Californians to "demand more of" their elected leaders because they currently lack "the political willpower to prioritize the [important] issues."
"We must demand more of our elected leaders in Washington. Right now, it is clear they lack the political willpower to prioritize the issues we care on the floor of the U.S. Senate," de León said. "It is time for new leadership that will fight tirelessly for fair and equal wages, a growing economy that generates good-paying jobs, and more opportunities for everyone … That’s why I won’t be just another party-line vote in Washington. Instead, I will be the outspoken activist Californians need on the issues they care about most."
SEIU's announcement came on the heels of an endorsement by the California Nurses Association's of de León's candidacy. The association, which represents 80,000 medical professionals across California, specifically cited the challenger's efforts to a pass legislation that would create a statewide single-payer health care system.
"At a time when 15 million Californians still have no health coverage, or pay for premiums and still can’t afford to get the medical care they need, Kevin de León demonstrated outstanding political courage and leadership in shepherding passage of SB 562 in the California Senate," Malinda Markowitz, co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, said in a statement.
Press Release: #Nurses Endorse @kdeleon for U.S. Senate https://t.co/d2DckW2CkU
"At a time when millions of Californians still have no health coverage, Kevin de León demonstrated outstanding leadership in shepherding passage of #SB562 in the CA Senate."- @RNMarkowitz pic.twitter.com/Q29qba8ngK
— California Nurses (@CalNurses) February 13, 2018
The California Nurses Association has a long history of supporting progressive candidates over more moderate, establishment Democrats. In 2016, the union endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries.