State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) continues to face considerable headwinds in his herculean task of trying to topple incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll.
The online survey of likely voters shows Feinstein with support from 36 percent of voters and de León far back with 11 percent. Republican James P. Bradley, an unknown Republican businessman from Southern California, was third with 7 percent. Twenty-five percent of voters remain undecided.
The findings indicate that not only has de León failed to catch fire with voters, he's hardly assured of coming in second in Tuesday's primary and advancing to the November election. However, while Feinstein maintains a healthy lead, 36 percent support from voters is less than impressive for an incumbent who has been in office for 26 years.
Feinstein declined to debate her opponents before the primary election, but she has been campaigning. At a Memorial Day ceremony in San Francisco Monday, she invoked the usual tributes to fallen soldiers -- and then she asked a question. "How would they regard this country now? Are we a country that stands for the rights of everybody? Fights for the rights that we believe in?" she said.
Feinstein didn’t mention his name, but it seemed clear her words were aimed at President Trump. In recent months Feinstein has taken aim at the president for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, travel ban, opposition to gun control and more. It’s a dramatic shift from comments she made about Trump in San Francisco last summer.
"I just hope he has the ability to learn and to change, and if he does he can be a good president," she told an audience at the Commonwealth Club. "And that’s my hope."
That comment stirred howls of criticism among Democrats in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton 2-1 over Trump. And it prompted de León -- who was then leader of the state Senate -- to challenge Feinstein. At the state Democratic convention earlier this year, de León referenced Feinstein’s conciliatory comments about Trump.
"We demand passion, not patience," he told the friendly crowd. "We speak truth to power. And we’ve never been fooled into believing that Donald Trump could be a good president."
Feinstein got a much cooler reception from this decidedly liberal convention, whose delegates snubbed her by giving de León 54 percent of its votes for an endorsement, to 37 percent for Feinstein. De León fell short of the 60 percent needed for an official party endorsement, but the vote was nonetheless an embarrassment for Feinstein, and it made national news.
Since then, the veteran senator has stepped up her criticism of Trump and voted against many of his judicial and Cabinet nominees.
Asked this week whether she thought Trump could still be a good president, Feinstein had this to say: "I don’t believe that a president that lies is a good president. You have the feeling that there is a lack of stability coming out of the White House."
Since the more liberal de León jumped into the race, Feinstein -- who at age 84 is the oldest member of the Senate -- has abandoned some of her more conservative positions on drugs, capital punishment and health care.
But, says Democratic consultant Garry South, Feinstein has been slow to keep up with the state’s changing politics.
"The political terrain in California has moved considerably to the left since Dianne Feinstein was first elected in 1992 on everything from gay marriage to recreational marijuana -- you name it," South said. "She's viewed by a considerable part of the Democratic base as being out of sync with where her state has moved."
But Feinstein rejects the notion that she has suddenly changed positions on capital punishment, pot and health care for political reasons. "I know what I stand for," she said this week. "I’ve represented this state for a substantial period of time and hope to continue to do so with energy and enthusiasm."
The recent mass shootings in Las Vegas, Florida and Texas have given Feinstein a chance to tout her longtime support for stricter gun control on a national stage.
De León has championed gun control, along with bills to fight climate change and protect immigrants here illegally.
Yet despite his liberal record and son-of-immigrants biography, de León has struggled to catch on with Democrats. Adding to the challenge, says Berkeley IGS pollster Mark DiCamillo, is that this race is being overshadowed by the hotly contested campaign for governor.
"I think if you probably asked a straight question about, is there a U.S. Senate election this year, a good chunk of likely voters would not be aware of it," DiCamillo said. Still, under California’s top-two primary system, de León believes he’d have a decent shot against Feinstein in November if he can just come in second next week.
"Because once that happens the dynamic changes completely," de León said. "I feel like if we get the number two slot, then resources will start coming in."
And with roughly 10 percent the cash on hand that Feinstein has, de León badly needs the campaign cash. But whether donors would be willing to place a bet against someone with Feinstein’s stature and seniority remains to be seen.
The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online May 22-28 with 2,106 voters.