Politics & Government

Feinstein 2018 fundraising picks up after quiet summer

United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Feinstein announced earlier this month she would run for a fifth term.
United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Feinstein announced earlier this month she would run for a fifth term. AP

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is facing what very well could be her first competitive race in more than two decades, but you wouldn’t know it from her latest fundraising report.

The veteran California Democrat raised just over half a million dollars between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to a portion of her campaign finance report that was released by her campaign. That’s less than Feinstein raised in the comparable period of her 2012 reelection campaign, which she won easily.

Feinstein had nearly $4 million in the bank as of Oct. 1, a sizable sum but still far less than most of her colleagues facing challenges in 2018.

Feinstein, however, has picked up the fundraising pace this month, according to her Los Angeles-based political adviser, Bill Carrick.

Since the beginning of October, the senator raised nearly as much as she did all of last quarter, pulling in roughly $400,000 via a series of fundraisers hosted in California while the Senate was on recess.

“Every night last week she had fundraisers,” Carrick says, as well as “three or four during the day.” That included one event with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk at his company, Space X, in Hawthorne and another with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that brought in approximately $100,000.

Carrick says many more fundraisers are in the works, though he declined to provide details. “We’re getting flooded with people who want to do fundraisers,” he said.

Feinstein’s fundraising push coincides with a new challenge from the left.

State Senate President Kevin de León confirmed Sunday morning he is running against the 84-year-old senator, an expected, but still audacious move. De León plans to accompany his weekend video announcement with a formal campaign launch event Wednesday, setting off an intraparty fight for the seat that could still get more crowded.

Wealthy investors and liberal activists Tom Steyer and Joe Sanberg are also looking at running in the state’s “jungle primary,” with the top two finishers advancing to the 2018 general election, regardless of party.

Money will be a pivotal factor in the race. While Feinstein has only begun to raise money aggressively, she has an extensive network of supporters in California and across the country, thanks to her decades in political life dating back to 1970s.

She also has personal wealth -- a fortune of nearly $80 million that makes her one of the richest members of Congress. Carrick says the senator would be willing to tap into her personal bank account if necessary, although “that’s not a decision that’s been made.”

Steyer and Sanberg could also fund their own campaigns, while de León is counting on tapping into the same base of liberal small-dollar donors that fueled Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ insurgent Democratic presidential campaign last year.

The last time Feinstein was in a tight race was in 1994, when wealthy Republican Michael Huffington tried to unseat her. Feinstein won by just under 2 percent of the vote in a contest that cost $44 million, a record for spending at the time. The incumbent has had a much easier time with her last three Republican opponents, winning by double-digits in 2000, 2006 and 2012.

While Republicans have little chance of mounting a real challenge for Feinstein’s seat in 2018, Feinstein’s detractors believe she’s vulnerable from her left flank in the state’s new top-two primary system.

That’s particularly the case given the rising power of progressives within the Democratic base and unease with Feinstein’s moderation, including a much-criticized call for “patience” with President Trump.

The unusual primary system also makes taking on Feinstein that much more expensive, however, given that a challenger will likely have to fight to advance out of the primary, and then face Feinstein again in a general election. With its expansive geography and some of the most expensive media markets in the country, the contest could once again set records for cost.

Speculation had been building that Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, might retire rather than face the demands of running again in 2018. She seriously considered it, she recently acknowledged, which may explain her less-than-imposing cash haul this summer. But ultimately one of California’s longest-serving leaders decided to try and extend her career, announcing her reelection bid on Twitter on Oct. 9.

“Lots more to do: ending gun violence, combating climate change, access to healthcare. I’m all in!” Feinstein tweeted.

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei