U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein ended one of the least mysterious political mysteries of the year by announcing she will run for another term, setting up what likely will be a clear choice in 2018.
Will Californians return an experienced hand, who has gained a reputation for moderation, or replace her with a challenger, probably from the left? Although any opponent would face long odds, voters deserve a serious contest in 2018, not an anointment.
Feinstein’s decision to run again means that worthy replacements must wait for a rare opening, or, if they’re feeling lucky, challenge an elder stateswoman, who has seniority and money. That is, in a sense, unfortunate.
New politicians bring with them new thinking. Feinstein has been in elected office since 1970, and will be 85 when voters go to the polls in November 2018. But she remains mentally sharp, and has served ably in the Senate since winning the seat in 1992. In these tumultuous times in Washington, voters may want the steady hand that Feinstein would provide.
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Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, two often-mentioned Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, quickly endorsed her. Sen. Kamala Harris, elected in 2016, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, running for governor, also announced their support.
Not so Rep. Ro Khanna, a Silicon Valley Democrat who unseated an incumbent last year. As first reported by Politico, Khanna is urging Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich to run. Both were reluctant, he told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.
“Whoever runs is going to have build a tremendous amount of grassroots support,” Khanna said.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a potential challenger from the left, took a swipe at Feinstein over her statement on “Face the Nation” that no gun law could have stopped the Las Vegas slaughter. But de León, like other potential candidates who would be unable to self-finance, would have a tough time raising the tens of millions needed to challenge her.
Democrats must defend 25 U.S. Senate seats in 2018. Feinstein biographer Jerry Roberts questioned in a tweet why Democratic contributors would fund a challenge to Feinstein for what probably will be the safest Democratic Senate seat in the nation in 2018.
Democrats Tom Steyer, a billionaire warrior on climate change and other issues, and Joe Sanberg, a wealthy investor who has gained notoriety by advocating for an earned income tax credit to assist lower-income workers, also have contemplated running. On Monday, Sanberg tweeted: “California deserves a bold progressive fighter who will stand up to Trump – bullies like Trump are defeated by courage, not patience.” Sanberg, like de León, had criticized Feinstein for urging voters to have “patience” with Trump.
Rich political novices have not fared well in California campaigns. And Feinstein has something no other California candidate this side of Jerry Brown has: a record of winning many times statewide.
Money will be no object. Although she had only $3.5 million in her campaign account at the end of June, SpaceX’s Elon Musk was hosting a fundraiser for her Monday, L.A. Mayor Garcetti was hosting one Tuesday, and she is among the wealthiest senators; her husband is philanthropist and investor Richard C. Blum.
With GOP registration hovering at 27 percent, Republicans have little chance at unseating Feinstein. She vanquished her most recent Republican challenger, Elizabeth Emken, by 25 percentage points in 2012.
We expect a more serious campaign in 2018. Voters deserve nothing less. Politicians don’t own their seats. But as of this day, 13 months from election day 2018, the U.S. Senate seat held by Feinstein is hers to lose.