Kevin de León, at a public launch of his brazen challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, avoided direct mention of her Wednesday, instead casting the campaign as a referendum on President Donald Trump and the “go-along-to-get-along” culture of Washington that facilitated his election.
“We are living in unique times facing unprecedented challenges that require new ideas and new energy,” de León said at his Los Angeles event, where he decried Democratic capitulation to Trump. “The D.C. playbook is obsolete,” he repeated twice for emphasis. “And it’s time that we, the people of California, bring the agenda to Washington – not the other way around.”
De León, 50, who grew up with a single mother in San Diego and in Tijuana, said he’s been told to “wait my turn” and “know my place” for his entire life. He said his candidacy represents a “different way of doing things” and that there are powerful people who would prefer he not run. “They are content with the status quo. That they’ll decide for us,” he said, mocking the establishment.
“Let me be clear, California will lead the resistance to any effort that will shred our social fabric or our Constitution,” he declared. “We won’t back down. We will stand up.”
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The diverse crowd at a community college campus periodically burst into chants in Spanish and in English, providing an energetic setting for the challenger to contrast his outsider approach with his veteran opponent, who was elected in 1992 and was in Washington on Wednesday presiding over a Senate oversight hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
While de León called California the world’s greatest beacon of opportunity, he said, “we didn’t get here through years of political seniority – we built it through acts of audacity.”
He obliquely mentioned Feinstein, one of Congress’ wealthiest members, several times as he spoke about his own humble beginnings, saying he’s spent much of his life “looking up” at the poverty line and predicting “I will never be a man of financial riches.”
But he said he believes California works best when everyone has the opportunity to succeed. “It’s a lesson that’s hard to learn from the back of a limousine, or behind gated walls,” he said.
Calling today’s California America’s tomorrow, de León contrasted the intransigence in Washington, where Democrats are in the minority, to the party’s relative fortunes at home, where he has led the state Senate in passing legislation to confront climate change, protect unauthorized immigrants, build more affordable housing, make college more affordable and raise the state’s minimum wage. He underscored his support for government-run, single-payer health care, which Feinstein opposes.
“From education to the environment, from high wages to health care to human rights: California is proof positive that progressive values put into action improve the human condition. We succeed because we are dreamers, not dividers. We succeed because we double down on lifting people up,” he said. “Not putting them down.”
He also referenced Feinstein’s calls for “patience” with Trump in a discussion this fall where she suggested he could “still be a good president” if he changed. On Wednesday, he shot back “We can’t cross our fingers and hope that Trump can ‘learn and change.’ We can’t compromise our core values. And we can’t concede – it’s time to lead.”
“Now is the time for a senator who is willing to stand up and be heard – not from the sideline, but loud and proud from the front line,” he added. “A legislator who has a record of disrupting the failed status quo and refuses to accept gridlock as the way it works in Washington. A leader who shares not just California values – but the courage of our convictions.”