I got into a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday on social media, offering some critical words about long-time senator Dianne Feinstein who, to the surprise of some (myself included) didn't get a primary endorsement from California Democrats over the weekend at their state convention. But though I was surprised by the action -- or lack thereof -- I understood it. However, most people who don't live in California likely don't have as detailed a view of her over the decades and can't quite understand why not all Democrats are fully-enamored with her.
To be clear, there are many things about Dianne Feinstein that I like and even admire. And the problem isn't that she is a bit right of center on too many issues. It's that she's a bit right of center on too many issues in a state that is one of the most Blue and most liberal in the country. As a result, her representation doesn't often match the liberal constituency that has elected her.
There were some people responding who said that Sen. Feinstein being re-elected so many times speaks to how much voters look for a leader and that her leadership was therefore appreciated. But life is rarely that simple, especially with someone who is so controversial that her own party didn't endorse her. There are many reasons she's been reelected. Some are indeed due to her often providing good representation. But some are due to Democrats not challenging strong, well-funded incumbents in primaries (especially incumbent senators for which a challenge requires a great deal of money), and then rarely having worthy Republicans opponents to run against in the state.
In fact, the whole issue of Republican opponents may even have come into play as a consideration this year. After all, the lack of endorsement was only for the primary, for which the convention chose to be open-minded, not the general election. That's another matter entirely, most-especially given California's odd election law which most people outside the state are unaware. This is whereby the top two vote-getters in the open primary become the candidates on the ballot for the general election. By not endorsing Sen. Feinstein in the primary, which she's almost certain to win, and win by a lot, it leaves the door open for one of her better-funded challengers to get enough votes to be the other candidate on the ballot, rather than a Republican. And that not only obviously guarantees a Democratic victory in the race, but also accomplishes something else very important -- it helps depress the Republican vote in a low turn-out midterm election by not even having a GOP candidate to vote for in the U.S. Senate race.
But I think there's another reason that this year in particular there were many Democrats at the state convention upset with Feinstein, perhaps more than usual. At the age of 84, it was thought she'd retire. After all, another term would keep her in the U.S. Senate until she's 90. And while there's something noble about that if one can continue to serve well, there's also the reality of politics which comes into play. And waiting to run this year if she didn't were two extremely strong candidates: Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both on the House Intelligence Committee, either of whom would give California vibrant representation for decades. And would be shoe-ins in this possible Blue Wave mid-term election, most-especially in California. However, when Dianne Feinstein announced her candidacy, neither congressman wanted a primary fight with a sitting senator of their own party, so they pulled out. Not only does that mean six years are now lost to the upper house for these two strong politicians, but -- although it's likely California will remain Blue and liberal in 2024 -- six years ahead is an uncertainty in politics, compared to a far-more near-100% sure present.
Again, there is much that Dianne Feinstein has done that I've liked over the years. And even admired. What she did releasing the Fusion GPS transcript over Chuck Grassley blocking it was wonderful. But in a very liberal state like California, she is too often on the conservative side of centrist to represent the state as well as it deserves. And as much as she has every right to run for re-election, if she cared more for the long-term good of the party, she would have stepped aside.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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