Steyer Endorses Feinstein's Primary Challenger in California Senate Race

Tom Steyer / Getty Images
April 18, 2018

The widening chasm between progressive and establishment Democrats in California was exemplified this week by an endorsement from liberal billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer.

Steyer waded into California Senate race Wednesday to endorse Kevin de León, the primary challenger to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), according to the Los Angeles Times.

The race between de León, seen as the most viable challenger, and the long-serving Feinstein has intensified in recent weeks. The two have openly sparred over universal health care and how California's elected officials should respond to President Donald Trump.

In his endorsement, the environmentalist billionaire applauded the 51-year-old de León as a strong progressive who emulated California, more so than the 84-year-old Feinstein.

"I think he’s the kind of young progressive that reflects California and would be a very strong advocate for our state nationally," Steyer said.

Steyer further elaborated on his decision for backing de León in a statement received by Politico.

"I have known Sen. de León for years and have fought alongside him on immigrant rights, expanding health care, and climate change," Steyer said. "Our work together on behalf of all Californians has assured me that he would be a champion of California's priorities and values."

The endorsement is the latest snub Feinstein has encountered from the left as she attempts to secure a full fifth term in the U.S. Senate. This is also not the first time Steyer has publicly castigated the senator.

One day after Feinstein announced her reelection bid, Steyer sent a letter to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee urging candidates up and down the ballot to support impeaching the president. Steyer, who at the time was mulling his own challenge to Feinstein, wrote there was "no time for 'patience'" and that it was "clear for all to see that there is zero reason to believe 'he can be a good president.'" The letter was a direct rebuke of comments Feinstein made in August of 2017, where the senator suggested Trump was capable of being "a good president."

In his endorsement, Steyer praised Feinstein as "an outstanding public servant" but said de León was the "true progressive" in the race.

"Sen. Feinstein has been an outstanding public servant who has dedicated the bulk of her adult life to the service of our state and the country," Steyer said. "I just believe Kevin is the true progressive and he reflects something we need representing California going forward."

"I have nothing bad to say about Dianne Feinstein," Steyer added. "I have a lot of good to say about Kevin de León."

The endorsement, if followed by outside financial support, could prove consequential for de León to overcome Feinstein in the June 5 primary. The incumbent has so far led de León in name recognition and fundraising. When asked if Steyer would underwrite de León's campaign, the billionaire demurred, according to the Times.

"I don’t have any concrete plans for that," Steyer said.