Billionaire California Democratic activist Tom Steyer endorsed state Sen. Kevin de León in his insurgent primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday, and did not rule out funding an outside effort to boost De León’s chances.
“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, pointing to De León’s efforts on issues such as immigration, climate change and gun control while he was the state Senate leader. “I know him well and he’s a friend. We share a lot of values.”
The two have a long friendship and worked together to pass environmental policies in Sacramento. But the endorsement still took some by surprise. Steyer has previously avoided getting involved in Democratic primaries and also has a long relationship with Feinstein.
De León, of Los Angeles, said he appreciates that Steyer took a position in the race.
“In this very political world, it’s not lost on a lot of folks that I’m challenging the establishment authority,” he said. “I consider Tom a good friend, a man of incredible integrity.”
Steyer, who himself flirted with challenging California’s senior senator for the seat, did not criticize Feinstein as he has in the past.
“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,” he said. “These are two strong, very good Democrats. 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. I have a lot of good to say about Kevin de León.”
Feinstein’s campaign declined to comment on the endorsement.
De León faces enormous odds as he tries to oust his fellow Democrat, who has served in the Senate for a quarter-century, is well known to the state’s voters and has daunting leads in polls and fundraising.
De León, the most prominent of the 31 people challenging Feinstein, has gained notable endorsements, most recently from the 2.1-million-member California Labor Federation. Feinstein has had several big name endorsements in recent weeks as well, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Jerry Brown.
But De León has struggled to compete with Feinstein financially. Campaign finance reports released this week showed that Feinstein had more than $10 million in the bank, while De León had just more than $670,000.
Feinstein, a multimillionaire who is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, has already lent her campaign $5 million and could easily write another check.
But Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, could write a larger one.
Steyer was noncommittal when asked if he would fund an independent expenditure group on behalf of De León.
“I don’t have any concrete plans for that,” he said.
He is among the largest Democratic donors in the nation and has already committed more than $50 million to push members of Congress to impeach President Trump —something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has urged him not to do — and to register young voters this year.
De León said he supports Steyer’s calls to impeach Trump.
“I admire and respect that he speaks truth to power and is putting his money where his mouth is even if that means bucking political convention,” De León said.