What a difference a few decades make: in 1990, Dianne Feinstein was apparently too far left for California voters, losing a gubernatorial race to Republican Pete Wilson. Nearly 30 years later, she’s not left enough—at least for the state Democratic Party, which has refused to endorse her for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. She received only 37 percent of delegates’ votes at the late February annual party convention—far short of the 60 percent needed for an endorsement. Supporters of State Senator Kevin de León, who nearly won the endorsement, serenaded Feinstein with the chant “Your time is up! Your time is up!” at the end of her speech.
Feinstein is often characterized as a centrist Democrat, though she has been reliably left of center. According to the American Conservative Union’s most recent congressional rankings, she scored an 8, on a scale where 100 represents a perfect conservative voting record. Her lifetime rating is 9.15. On the other side, left-leaning Americans for Democratic Action gives Feinstein an 85 rating, on a similar 100 scale. She scored 75 in 2015, 90 in 2014, 100 in 2013 (when she made the list of ADA Senate “heroes”), and a 95 in 2012.
With such a reliably left-wing voting record, why did Feinstein lose the support of the California Democratic Party? Maybe it’s because the party—though not necessarily its voters—is listing so far to port that it’s falling into the deep end. De León’s popularity at the convention was driven by several factors. He’s taken a harder line against the Trump administration than Feinstein, and he’s promoted himself as a young leader with more energy to fight the battles that the party is picking in 2018. De León is a steamrolling union organizer, while Feinstein is a comfortable-in-her-wealth multimillionaire. Insiders believe that de León could be an insurgent candidate who would stir up Trump’s Washington more than Feinstein has.
Since the Golden State became the Cerulean State, public-employee pensions have become a fiscal time bomb, taxation continues to increase, businesses have fled a hostile commercial and regulatory environment, the middle class is finding refuge elsewhere, the poverty rate is the nation’s highest, and the state’s quality of life has been ranked the worst in the nation. The state’s homeless problem is a national embarrassment, its housing crisis goes unaddressed, and its public school system is failing students and parents.
If the state Democratic Party’s shunning of Feinstein is any indication of how voters will mark their state and local ballots this year and in coming elections, these problems will only grow worse. California could become a 2020s version of a 1980s Rust Belt state, where economies, prospects, and populations recede at alarming rates. If the Democratic Party’s leftward swing indeed resonates with voters, California is in more trouble than anyone has previously thought.