The New York Times: ‘I Have the Energy’: Dianne Feinstein Makes Case for a 6th Term
By Adam Nagourney
She is the oldest member of the United States Senate. She’s lasted through four presidents, at least two wars, one impeachment and the election of Donald J. Trump.
And now, eight months short of her 85th birthday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California wants to do it again.
Yet Ms. Feinstein’s decision to seek her sixth term, which she disclosed on Twitter on Monday, comes as Democrats are being swept by generational and ideological turmoil that some party members say might make her a leader out of step with her time.
Across the country, younger Democratic officeholders are chafing at being held in place by a blockade of older leaders. And that dynamic is particularly true in California where older leaders — Ms. Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader — have been in power for more than a generation. Mr. Brown, who is 79, is stepping down next year because of term limits, but Ms. Feinstein’s decision dashes widespread speculation — in some quarters, hopes — that she might retire.
“There are people who are yearning to see some younger blood in the state,” Kimberly Ellis, 44, a Bay Area activist who ran unsuccessfully to lead the California Democratic Party this year, said before Ms. Feinstein made her announcement. “This is the great state of California and there is no shortage of talent here. A lot of young Democrats want to be given a chance to lead.”
The resilience of the old guard is an increasing source of tension in Congress as well. Representative Linda Sánchez, 48, a California Democrat, said that it was time for older Democrats to make way for a younger generation. In an interview with C-Span, she called for Ms. Pelosi and other top Democrats in their 70s to step aside.
“I personally think the leadership does a tremendous job, but I think we have a real depth of talent within our caucus and I think it is time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders,” Ms. Sánchez said.
The Democratic Party is also in the throes of an ideological and strategic transformation as party leaders debate how to respond to President Trump after Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. In an era where partisanship is dominant and often applauded, Ms. Feinstein is viewed in Washington as someone who is genteel and serious, and not overly partisan. That is not a trait valued by some Democrats who came on to the field when Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, ran for president.
That is particularly the case in California, where Mr. Trump lost by nearly four million votes. Ms. Feinstein was reminded of that in August when she was berated by fellow Democrats, including Kevin de Leon, the Democratic leader of the State Senate, after suggesting that Mr. Trump could learn to be a “good president.”
In an interview on Monday, Ms. Feinstein argued that the experience she brought to the job has been critical during turbulent times. She said voters would decide whether there was a need for new blood or ideology.
“I have the energy,” she said. “My mind is fine. I believe I will have strong support from Democrats — and from others.”
“I don’t think there is anybody that will say that they can’t work with me, that I haven’t been a hard worker, that I haven’t tried my level best to represent the needs of the state,” she said. “If somebody who is better gets elected, I say, ‘that’s fine.’”
In a poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, 50 percent of likely voters surveyed said that Ms. Feinstein should not seek a sixth term. And there has been no shortage of speculation about potential challengers or successors: Mr. de Leon, who is barred from term limits from running for re-election, has signaled that he might run against her. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Shortly after Ms. Feinstein’s announcement, Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the Daily Kos, a liberal group that has proved to be a powerful fund-raising organization, encouraged Mr. de Leon to run. “We share a common interest in this Senate race,” he said on Twitter. “Let’s beat the most pro-Trump Blue-state Dem in the country!”
For all that, there are few political figures here who think that Ms. Feinstein is in major danger of losing re-election. She has been a fixture in California politics for nearly half a century, serving in the Senate, as the mayor of San Francisco and as a member of the county board of supervisors. “Not in the slightest,” said Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican strategist here. “No credible challenger would take the risk, which means the only possible challengers are by definition not credible.”
Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said she does not expect the Republicans to put up a serious candidate against her, though Ms. Feinstein could find herself in a race with a Democrat.
“The only thing that makes her vulnerable is her age,” she said.
Ms. Feinstein has the personal finances to give her the kind of financial advantage that will complicate the task of any challenger. She also has the reservoir of good will that comes from being in public life for so long.
Scott Wiener, a state senator from San Francisco, said Ms. Feinstein had clashed with activist Democrats going back to when she was mayor of San Francisco, but argued that she retains a loyal following.
“I think people may not agree with Dianne Feinstein on every issue, but people respect her a lot,” he said. “And people respect her integrity a lot. People respect her ability to deliver.”
Ms. Feinstein’s announcement seemed design to quell rising speculation that she might step down. She kept it, at least initially, to the brief confines of a post on Twitter. “I am running for re-election to the Senate. Lots more to do: ending gun violence, combating climate change, access to health care. I’m all in!”
Ms. Feinstein has long been known for her mix of security hawkishness and traditional liberalism, often informed by her background as a Californian, a female trailblazer and witness to gun violence. She led a traumatized city in the hours after Mayor George Moscone, whom she succeeded, and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in City Hall in 1978. Ms. Feinstein is the first woman to serve on the Judiciary Committee, where she is now the most senior Democrat.
But she has been criticized by both sides too. Ms. Feinstein ran up against liberal Democratic leaders after her defense of intelligence gathering opposed by President Barack Obama.
“Dianne has always been a very independent sort,” said Eric C. Bauman, the state Democratic leader, in an interview before her announcement. “When she ran for governor back in 1990 she came to the Democratic convention and she touted her support for the death penalty and got booed. She has never worried about toeing the party line and activists have always been unhappy with her.”
And Republicans, who have criticized her for some of the more liberal positions she has taken, such as on gun control, pledged to find a candidate to run against her. “Over half of her constituents oppose her election to the U.S. Senate, and we agree,” said Jim Brulte, the state Republican leader.
In Congress, Ms. Feinstein has long been a powerful advocate of gun control measures, and her profile rose in the wake of last week’s massacre in Las Vegas as she pushed for new laws in response to the shootings.
Mr. Wiener said he thought Ms. Feinstein was being unfairly characterized as not representing her party. He said one of the hallmarks of her career has been trying to work across the aisle.
“I don’t think she’s out of touch,” he said. “She made one comment, among many comments she made in one night. She got crucified for it. I think it’s unfair. I’ve known Dianne Feinstein for a long time. She is keenly aware and concerned about how dangerous Donald Trump is.”
But Ms. Ellis said she had come to view Ms. Feinstein as a symbol of the problem with Democratic Party politics today.
“Senator Feinstein is symbolic of a lot of our elected leaders in that they are out of touch with the people in the party,” Ms. Ellis said. “Senator Feinstein has done a lot of really great things for California over the years. But California has changed over the two and a half decades she has been in office, and I don’t think she’s changed along with the state.”