Kevin de Leon, Dianne Feinstein challenger, wins Republicans’ support in California Senate race
California State Sen. Kevin de Leon is running far to the left yet he’s winning over Republicans in his bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein next week, in one of the weirder bits of fallout from the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.
It’s not that GOP voters particularly like Mr. de Leon, but after watching Mrs. Feinstein’s handling of uncorroborated 11th-hour sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, many Republicans are willing to to vote for anyone but her.
That’s true even if it means backing a Bernard Sanders-style left-winger who wants tuition-free college and government-run health care.
“It’s all about the Kavanaugh effect,” said Shawn Steel, the Republican National Committeeman from California.
Mrs. Feinstein holds a 9 percentage-point lead in the latest poll this week from the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies, building her lead with overwhelming support from Democrats. But she trails, 34 percent to 23 percent, among Republicans, and lags 5 points behind among independents.
In California, the top two vote-getters from the primary election move to the general election, regardless of their political party.
Nearly nine in 10 likely Republican voters have an unfavorable view of Ms. Feinstein, the Berkeley poll said, compared to about two-thirds who dislike Mr. de Leon.
Most intriguing are the 43 percent of Republicans who told Berkeley they haven’t made up their mind or plan to sit out the election. A savvy campaign to reel in disgruntled Republicans could benefit Mr. de Leon, as he tries to make up ground in the final stretch to Election Day.
But that might be an impossible leap for the liberal who says he wants to “abolish ICE” the federal deportation agency and impeach President Trump.
“He’s running as the ultimate progressive, and how does a progressive appeal to conservative pro-Kavanaugh voters? He can’t figure that out,” Mr. Steel said. “He’s just ideologically trapped.”
Republicans say Ms. Feinstein “pulled a stunt” with her handling of accusations against Justice Kavanaugh, which she learned about in July but didn’t disclose until the press forced her hand at the end of the confirmation process.
The senator says she didn’t leak the accusations, but Mr. Trump and some Senate Republicans said the chain of events strongly suggested she was responsible.
Meanwhile, Mr. de Leon piled on from the left, saying Ms. Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, showed a “failure of leadership” by not raising the allegations at the beginning.
Mr. de Leon, 51, argues it’s time the state move beyond Ms. Feinstein, 85.
His campaign hopes that message will resonate across the board, including with Republicans.
“I think Californians recognize the Washington, D.C., playbook isn’t working for them that the status quo is broken and they want change, a new voice representing them in halls of power,” de Leon spokesman Jonathan Underland said. “In these final days we are traveling to meet with as many Californians as we possibly can, from all walks of life, to deliver a message that it’s time for a change.”
Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS Poll, doubted there’s enough space there to change the race.
“If true, whatever benefit that De Leon gets among Republican voters is likely to be small and will not likely impact the outcome of the race, and Democratic voters’ two-to-one preference for Feinstein will carry the day,” he said.
James P. Bradley, a Republican who nearly bested Mr. de Leon in the primary, agreed, saying he suspects GOP voters will end up tilting for Ms. Feinstein.
“The Republican conservative consensus is we’d rather go toward the centrist, which Dianne has a long career of being,” said Mr. Bradley, who added he probably will sit out the Senate election.
He’ll opt for Ms. Feinstein if he does vote, though partly out of self-interest he wants to enter the special election if the 85-year-old wins and then retires before the end of her six-year term.
Ms. Feinstein’s campaign said it’s not sweating Mr. de Leon’s apparent edge among Republicans, saying it’s a quirk of California’s unusual process.
“People don’t know who the hell he is,” Ms. Feinstein’s longtime political consultant, Bill Carrick, said of Mr. de Leon. “He became a repository for anyone angry about Kavanaugh. They have no idea what his politics are.”
He said if they did, they’d probably have a heart attack.
Indeed, Mr. Steel said, for Republicans in the know, Mr. de Leon is considered “enemy number one” for his role in sweeping sanctuary-state legislation to divorce state and local authorities from federal immigration enforcement.