WASHINGTON — California’s state Senate leader Kevin de León said on Sunday he would run for U.S. Senate in a bid to unseat fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who announced just last week that she would seek reelection next year.
His announcement sets up a potentially bitter generational battle between Feinstein, 84, one of the Senate’s most senior Democrats, and de León, 50, who is the California Senate president pro tem and who represents east Los Angeles.
“We now stand at the front lines of a historic struggle for the very soul of America, against a President without one,” de León said in a video statement to supporters on Sunday.
Feinstein announced on Monday that she would seek re-election to a sixth term, writing on Twitter, “Lots more to do: ending gun violence, combating climate change, access to healthcare. I’m all in!”
But even though she has sailed to victory in her most recent campaigns against nominal opposition, she has become a target on the left among activists who see her as too moderate on issues like health care and not strident enough in criticizing President Donald Trump. Soon after de León announced his bid, one group, Democracy for America, gave their endorsement.
“The simple fact is this: We won’t defeat Trump and his Republican Party with corporate Democrats pushing Republican-lite policies and weak leadership,” Charles Chamberlain, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “We win when candidates offer a progressive vision for America and fight to make it happen.”
Last month, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation to establish a single-payer healthcare system, some activists held up signs deriding Feinstein, who did not endorse the proposal.
But de León will face Feinstein’s considerable financial resources and her backing from some of the state’s most prominent Democrats. The junior U.S. Senator from California, Kamala Harris, said last month that she would back Feinstein if she chose to run for re-election. Well before she announced that she would seek another term, Feinstein had been raising money for a potential bid, including a fundraiser this past week co-hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a number of entertainment industry figures. In March, producer Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and business executive Jon Vein hosted a fundraiser for Feinstein at their home, which further convinced many that she would seek another term.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Feinstein told the crowd that Trump’s comments on foreign affairs and other issues convinced her to seek another term, and that “seniority matters” when trying to buttress the president’s actions. Earlier this month, in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, Feinstein introduced legislation to ban the devices that allowed the assailant to maximize the lethal capacity of his firearms.
Feinstein was first elected in 1992. She faced her most serious challenge two years later, when she narrowly edged out Republican Michael Huffington in a re-election bid.
Because of California’s open primary, it is possible that two Democrats will face each other in the general election. That happened last year, when Harris and Loretta Sanchez sought the seat.