Feinstein Flips on Death Penalty, Tries to Win Over Skeptical California Democrats

Dem political strategist: 'I'm just not sure she gets it'

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) / Getty
May 23, 2018

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) seeks a fifth full term in the U.S. Senate, her fellow California Democrats have taken notice of her moves to the left to assuage wary progressives, such as flip-flopping on her support for the death penalty.

Feinstein was booed last year in San Francisco for saying Donald Trump could be a good president, and angry liberals have not let her forget it.

"It was like the 13th stroke of a clock, it just caught everybody's attention," California Democratic political strategist Garry South told the Los Angeles Times. "The political ground has just really shifted to the left right under her feet, and I'm just not sure she gets it."

Now, she's become a reliable voice against Trump, recently voting down Gina Haspel and Mike Pompeo for their respective nominations for CIA director and secretary of state. She no longer supports capital punishment, and she said she supports the federal law barring the federal government from cracking down on states that legalize marijuana.

"At the beginning of the Trump administration, we were not pleased with her … and we're seeing her voting record shifting more to the left," said Francesca Wander, a member of the liberal advocacy group San Francisco Indivisible.

Feinstein was first elected to the Senate in 1992 in a special election, and she's breezed to re-election ever since. South said she's trying to show she's not "stuck in the 1990s."

"She's been frantically searching around for things to do, things to say, votes to cast to at least signal to the base that she's not totally stuck in the 1990s," South said.

Feinstein got only 37 percent support from the state's delegates at the state convention in February, in comparison to 54 percent for her primary challenger, State Sen. Kevin de León. Neither received the 60 percent required for the official party endorsement.

However, she's said she doesn't mind the booing, and supporters said she, like California, had naturally changed.

"I believe that this is not a good president, and I think I gave him every opportunity," Feinstein said. "I'm very worried about the instability; I'm very worried about the absence of any truth coming out of the White House. I'm very worried by the fact that he continues to divide people instead of bringing people together."

The Los Angeles Times reported Feinstein has a healthy lead over de León but around 40 percent of voters are still undecided, a significant number given Feinstein's name recognition and incumbency.

If re-elected, Feinstein will be 91 years old at the end of her next term.