California Democratic officials rejected Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Saturday night with an overwhelming endorsement of her party challenger, liberal state senator Kevin de León, a rebuke that came just six weeks after Ms. Feinstein handily beat Mr. de León in a primary.
The endorsement of the party’s executive board, with 65% of the vote, came despite Ms. Feinstein’s entreaties for members not to back any particular candidate. She received 7% of the ballots.
The disparity between state primary voters and party leaders reflected a tack to the left among younger activists who are rising through party ranks and are frustrated by President Donald Trump’s policies on such issues as immigration, health care and environmental protections.
Ms. Feinstein, 85 years old, who has a record of centrist pragmatism, is seeking a fifth full term.
“We have presented Californians with the first real alternative to the worn-out Washington playbook in a quarter-century,” Mr. de León said in statement. “Today’s vote is a clear-eyed rejection of politics as usual in Washington, D.C.”
Mr. de León, 51-years-old, represents Los Angeles in the state Senate, where he has served as the president. He is the author of California’s sanctuary-state legislation, backs a single-payer health-care system and has authored a number of bills aimed at increasing renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions in the state.
The vote means Mr. de León will receive several million dollars in exposure through the Democratic Party, but he remains a long shot to unseat Ms. Feinstein. She received 44% of the votes in last month’s primary to Mr. de León’s 12% and has significantly more money in her campaign war chest.
The two Democrats will face each other again in November because California has an open primary system, in which the top two finishers face each other regardless of party.
“While 217 delegates expressed their view on Saturday, Senator Feinstein won by 2.1 million votes and earned 70% of the Democratic vote in the California primary election, carrying every county by double digits over her opponent,“ Feinstein campaign manager Jeff Millman said in a statement. ”We are confident that a large majority of California Democrats will vote to reelect Senator Feinstein in November."
But even if Ms. Feinstein’s political future isn’t imperiled, the development reflects the growing strength of progressive activists within the Democratic Party.
In late July, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former Bernie Sanders organizer, pulled off a major upset by defeating longtime Rep. Joe Crowley of New York in a Democratic primary. The same day, Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president backed by Mr. Sanders, prevailed over more established candidates to win Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
In other primaries, more traditional Democratic candidates have defeated insurgents. But the developments in California and elsewhere show how the party’s activist progressive wing has been energized in opposition to the Trump presidency.
Still, the impact on the November midterms remains unclear. The Democrats’ enthusiastic base is likely to be a plus for the party, and the president’s party often fares poorly in midterm elections. But as with the GOP when it has faced its own rebels from the right, the phenomenon can divide the party and knock off candidates who would arguably be stronger in the general election.
Mr. de León entered the race last year after Ms. Feinstein was criticized by opponents for voting to confirm several of Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees. Activists also pounced on her words during a forum in San Francisco last summer when she said Mr. Trump could become a “good president.”
“Look, this man is going to be president, most likely for the rest of this term,” she said at the time, in a response to a question about impeachment. “I just hope he has the ability to learn and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president.”
This year, Ms. Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has clashed more openly with Mr. Trump.
In January, she released 300 pages of closed-door committee testimony by Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, angering many Republicans. Fusion was involved in assembling a controversial “dossier” of unsubstantiated information about Mr. Trump, and Ms. Feinstein argued that Mr. Simpson’s testimony was being mischaracterized.
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