Feinstein, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, is in the midst of one of the most uncomfortable endings of a political career. His prolonged previous departure has become, for many of his fellow Democrats, an abject lesson in the dangers of holding out.
“She’s still the state’s top senator,” said a longtime Democratic strategist in California. And they’re dancing on it [political] grave.»
Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress at 89, has been a fixture in Democratic politics here for decades. But as the electorate in California shifted, his brand of centrism became disengaged from his party’s progressive base, so much so that the California Democratic Party in the 2018 primary refused to endorse his run for election. re-election. She ran and won handily anyway.
More troubling for Feinstein have been lingering questions about her health. Even Democrats sympathetic to the senator have been reading headlines about their cognitive aptitude to serve. Stories about it appear with such regularity now that they no longer elicit the shock value of early versions, when publishing such matters appeared to be violating some unwritten DC code of conduct.
Feinstein’s office has long rebuffed such comments, saying she has all her facilities and remains fully capable of running the job of senating the nation’s most populous state. Still, she’s a long way from the harvey milk days or the «women’s year” when she and Barbara Boxer became the first women elected to the California Senate in 1992. Heck, that’s a far cry from 2019, when Annette Bening portrayed her as a crusader against torture and fighting the Bush administration in the drama politician «The report.»
In California, Democrats are left looking for signs that she, too, sees the program coming to an end. That includes even those who support her.
After Feinstein this week reported raising less than $600 in the last fundraising periodone of his small donors, a Carlsbad, California man named William Betts, said, “I have some automatic payments there that are still going on.”
“I would much prefer a younger candidate, certainly anyone from Generation X,” he said. «My preference is for her to retire.»
Much of California would appear to be ready for that. in a Berkeley IGS Survey Taken about a year ago, Feinstein’s job approval rating in the state hit an all-time low of 30 percent. An October measure from the California Public Policy Institute put her approval rating highest, at 41 percent among likely voters, but still under water.
“Not much has been said in terms of his recent leadership that has been positive,” said Mark Baldassare, director of the poll. «It’s really been a while since I’ve read or heard glowing comments about her.»
Still, he said that if he was polling about the Senate race now, he would include her.
“Until further notice,” he said, “she is the senator.”
But it seems like just about everyone else in California, some more finesse than others, is preparing for her not to be. Pelosi, before issuing her conditional endorsement to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said that if Feinstein seeks re-election, «he has my full support.» But no politician issues that kind of statement if he expects him to. Schiff and Rep. katie porter (D-Calif.) are already running. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has told colleagues he plans to do so. Rep Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is considering the race.
The already-declared nominations, in turn, have sparked a scramble among Democrats eager to announce campaigns for their soon-to-be-open House seats.
“It seems like everyone is handling it professionally and honoring Dianne,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran Democratic strategist and former member of the Democratic National Committee.
Even if the rush to fill a chair still held by Feinstein is, collectively, “pretty tacky,” as one Democratic strategist put it, it may be hard to criticize him politically. The California primary is in March 2024, just over a year away, and candidates will need to raise tens of millions of dollars to compete in the state’s huge media markets.
“The sad thing about this is that she has always been someone you didn’t dare mess with,” said the strategist. «And it looks like that just went away.»
Schiff is already raising money and Porter, with his blackboards outside, is also bringing cash. At his first campaign rally in Northern California last month, she told the crowd it was time for «a fresh new voice» in the Senate.
For her part, Feinstein has hardly blinked an eye at the spectacle surrounding her, even if the previous announcements run counter to what Boxer’s adviser Rose Kapolczynski called «a long tradition of deference.»
«Not in the winter,» Feinstein said. “I don’t advertise in the winter.”
If she announces her retirement, she could drastically change the opinion that her constituents have of her. Politicians are usually more popular when they go.
“There will be all the usual retrospectives on his career and his groundbreaking moments and gun control and abortion and Harvey Milk and all that,” Kapolczynski said. “There will be an afterglow. Once you announce that you will not run again, you get recognition from the voters afterwards.”
That will probably happen no matter when Feinstein makes his announcement. And after 30 years in the Senate, some Democrats say, he has clearly earned the right to make his plans on whatever time frame he wants.
“I think she’s been a great senator, but you know … the writing’s been on the wall for a while,” said Steve Maviglio, a former New Hampshire state legislator and California Democratic strategist. «I think she wants to get out of it on her terms.»