Democrat Dianne Feinstein won her bid for a fifth term representing California in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, extending a career in California politics that began in 1969.
In early returns, Feinstein, 85, led fellow Democrat Kevin de León, a state senator three decades her junior, 52 percent to 48 percent, in a race that pitted experience versus ideological purity. CNN projected Feinstein’s win shortly after the polls closed.
With her victory, Feinstein is poised to remain an influential figure in Washington. She is likely to retain her position as the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy and screens President Trump’s judicial nominees. Feinstein played a central role in the fierce fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination earlier this fall.
Democrats, however,will continue to be in the minority in the Senate in the new Congress, meaning Feinstein’s role will be one of opposition, seeking to make bipartisan deals where she can.
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The California senator’s preference for compromise over confrontation was a focal point in her reelection race, with de León arguing she had lost touch with the state’s increasingly liberal Democratic base.
“We need Democrats in Washington, D.C., that have the courage of their convictions, to not just be on the sidelines, but on the frontlines,” de León said during the race’s only debate, which was billed as a “conversation” between the two candidates.
De León, a former leader of the state Senate who is leaving the Legislature due to term limits, tried to present himself as part of a new, more progressive generation willing to fight for liberal values on climate change, immigration and health care.
It didn’t work.
Despite losing the California Democratic party’s endorsement to de León in July, Feinstein maintained a wide lead among likely Democratic voters in the weeks leading up to election day, polls showed.
She also won the vast majority of endorsements from Democratic officials and editorial boards in the state. And perhaps, most critically, she enjoyed a yawning fundraising advantage, fueled, in part by $8 million in loans from her personal bank account. In total, Feinstein raised roughly $20 million for the race.
De León was unable to keep up financially, raising approximately $2 million in an election cycle when many small-dollar Democratic donors have focused on ousting Republican majorities in Congress.