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Sen. Dianne Feinstein Loses Support Of California Democratic Party


In California, one of the bluest of the blue states, we could be seeing a fissure within the Democratic Party. Senator Dianne Feinstein is one of the longest-serving U.S. senators, and she is again running for re-election this fall. But she was denied the endorsement of the California Democratic Party at its annual convention. Senator Feinstein won the endorsement of just 37 percent of the delegates. The revolt was led by supporters of California Senate President Kevin de Leon, who is running in the primary against Feinstein. He won 54 percent of delegate support, still short of the 60 percent needed to get the official endorsement. State Senator de Leon joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KEVIN DE LEON: Hey, good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What does the weekend vote say about the divisions in California's Democratic Party right now?

DE LEON: I think that the weekend's vote Saturday was a strong message that California Democrats overwhelmingly support me because they know I have led on really critical issues such as climate change, clean energy, raising minimum wage to the highest in the nation - $15 an hour - equal pay for women doing equal work, health care, gun control, and especially, given the polarized debate nationwide, the issue of DREAMers and immigrant protections.

MARTIN: So you feel like your progressive platform has some traction right now. But it's worth pointing out, Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders, who many considered the more progressive candidate in the 2016 California primary. And you are currently well behind Dianne Feinstein in the polls.

DE LEON: I think, you know, a critical thing to understand is that the traditional sort of politics, whether you're more moderate or more progressive - I think what a lot of Californians are saying, actually, is they do want a voice that represents them in Washington on the front lines rather than the sidelines. And I think that you heard a very strong voice in California, especially over the course of the weekend, say that they want to challenge the status quo and that many working families, many young college students, many DREAMers want a voice that says - that will stand up for you, and clearly saying that the status quo is not working for them in Washington.

MARTIN: I want to ask you, last October, more than a hundred women - 147 women - signed a letter saying there are pervasive abuses and sexual harassment happening in the California state Legislature. You have been criticized for not quickly addressing those issues. In this era of Me Too, why should California women vote for you over Senator Feinstein, who has really spearheaded a lot of efforts to combat harassment in Congress?

DE LEON: Well, I think just like every public institution, including Congress, our Senate is dealing with the long-overdue cultural change led by voices of courage. We've implemented the toughest protections in the country. And we created an outside, independent process. So we're sending a very strong message that no one is above the law and that our employees will be protected. So that's something I'm very proud of. And I think that when the dust settles, that what we've done in the state Senate will be used as a national model.

MARTIN: In seconds remaining, one of the criticisms of the major political parties right now is that they can be too responsive to grass-roots activists, that the majority is often drowned out by more extreme viewpoints. Is that the case in your party right now?

DE LEON: Well, I think we have to be very careful that we don't delegitimize the voice of the Democratic voter and that these men and women, these young college students, who will be on the front lines to take over a majority, hopefully, in 2018 - that we don't disrespect them. I think it's important that we respect all Democratic voters, including those who are not Democratic voters.

MARTIN: We'll leave it there. California State Senator Kevin de Leon - he's running against Senator Dianne Feinstein in the midterm elections. Thanks for your time this morning.

DE LEON: Thank you, Rachel. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.