California Senate leader Kevin de León kicks off U.S. Senate campaign in Los Angeles

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León shakes hands with supporters during an event held to formally announce his run for U.S. Senate on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles.
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León shakes hands with supporters during an event held to formally announce his run for U.S. Senate on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Democratic state Senate leader Kevin de León held his first official campaign event Wednesday and went right to his core criticism of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein ahead of what promises to be a bitter and expensive battle.

“We are living in unique times, facing unprecedented challenges that require new ideas and new energy,” he told the crowd, which campaign spokesman Roger Salazar said included a few hundred supporters, at the launch of his U.S. Senate bid. “The D.C. playbook is obsolete.”

The event, held at a community college in downtown Los Angeles, paid homage to De León’s humble upbringing and alluded to chief complaints De León has had about Feinstein, who at 84 is making her sixth run for the Senate.

De León played on the themes of change and bold action that he’s embraced as a leader of California’s pushback against President Trump’s policies.


“We can no longer afford to be polite or patient…. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that Trump can learn and change,” De León said, referencing comments Feinstein made about the president in August at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. “Now is the time for a senator who is willing to stand up and be heard, not from the sidelines, but loud and proud from the front lines.”

California State Senator Kevin DeLeón rally (Video by Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Supporters, many of them sporting purple shirts from the SEIU United Service Workers West union, replied in Spanish with chants of “We’re in the fight!” and “Kevin de León is a champion!”

De León announced his challenge Sunday in a campaign video and an email to supporters in which he promised to fight a Trump administration that “wages war on our people and our progress.”

The intraparty battle between De León and Feinstein promises to be a study in contrasts.

Feinstein, a member of the Democratic old guard who has been in office since 1992, is known as a cautious consensus-seeker and was criticized by members of her own party when she urged “patience” with Trump.

De León, part of the party’s ambitious younger generation, has taken center stage in Sacramento as a leader of California’s “resistance” against the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, climate change and education.

De León sought to highlight those differences, talking about how he was raised by a single mother with a third-grade education who made ends meet by cleaning houses.

“I saw how distant success can feel when you look and talk differently and don’t even speak the same language,” De León told his supporters, who included half a dozen of his legislative colleagues.

Speaking to reporters afterward, De León remarked that he doesn’t have the “ability to pick up a pen and write myself a personal check…. That is the contrast in this campaign, from someone who is a billionaire, to someone who grew up in the most humble neighborhoods in California.”

State Sen. Toni Atkins, who was among De León’s colleagues in the crowd, said Feinstein’s work over the past 25 years “can’t be questioned.”

“But we are in a new day and a new time, and I think Kevin de León has shown the leadership to actually move an agenda forward,” Atkins said. “He’s got a good story for California, and he’s got a good story for our place in history, and I think that’s going to resonate.”

For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.


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6:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from campaign spokesman Roger Salazar.

4:38 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and context.

This article was originally published at 3:45 p.m.