Emblematic of the division splitting the nation’s liberals, the California Democratic Party decided not to endorse in the U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contests Saturday at their annual convention in San Diego. The move was a notable rebuke of veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has represented California in the upper house for a quarter-century.
Feinstein, 84, is facing an insurgent bid by fellow Democrat Kevin de León, who is calling for generational change and a more aggressive and confrontational approach to President Trump. Though De León did not get the endorsement, he and his advisors noted that a large percentage of the state’s Democratic leaders opposed the endorsement of Feinstein, a remarkable opposition to a woman who is a part of the party firmament.
“The outcome of today’s endorsement vote is an astounding rejection of politics as usual, and it boosts our campaign’s momentum as we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a complacent status quo,” De León said. “California Democrats are hungry for new leadership that will fight for California values from the frontlines, not equivocate on the sidelines.”
As Feinstein addressed the thousands of Democrats gathered in San Diego for their annual convention, she touted her tenure, notably her efforts on gun control. After she failed to obtain the state party endorsement, her longtime advisor argued that Feinstein, as a senior senator in Washington, D.C., could not shower party regulars with as much attention as De León could.
“He spent a lot of time working the party stuff over the years,” said Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s senior aide. “She’s obviously a senator in Washington with a very serious day job.”
He also noted that the party endorsement contest drew the party’s most fervent activists, not the average voter.
“I don’t want to denigrate anybody, but as a subset, this is not a primary election,” Carrick said.
In the governor’s race, none of the top Democrats in the running will go into the June 5 primary election with the party’s endorsement.
Votes cast by delegates at the convention splintered among the four top Democrats in the race: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
A candidate had to capture 60% of the delegate votes to win the party’s seal of approval — which was considered unlikely given the field of politicians in the race with deep ties to the state party.
Newsom received the most votes — 39% — winning a consolation prize of bragging rights. He was trailed by Chiang at 30%, Eastin at 20% and Villaraigosa at 9%. Villaraigosa was expected to have a tough battle for votes: He has not regularly attended party conventions or run for statewide office.
There were also no endorsements in the races for lieutenant governor or state attorney general.