Dianne Feinstein

If Sen. Feinstein Loses Re-Election, It Certainly Won't Be Because She's Not 'Left' Enough

California's top-two primary system helps protect her, but what's her appeal outside of her own party?

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Ever since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced she was going to run for re-election, there's been a buzz about whether she'd face a primary challenger from the left.

The answer to that is obviously yes. She's going to probably face several Democrats—and Republicans and independents—in the primary. What's not clear is whether a fragmented group of opponents could draw enough support to genuinely threaten her incumbency.

It's also not clear whether the folks publicly stroking their chins about Feinstein's chances adequately understand how California's primaries work. The result is some awfully ill-fitting, if typical, "horse race" journalism.

California has a top-two primary system for congressional and statewide races. All candidates from all parties face off in a big rugby scrum (look at this Puppy Bowl of people in last year's primary to replace Barbara Boxer). The two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, face off again in November.

This frequently means voters are selecting between candidates from the same party. And this is by design. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris won her seat by defeating a fellow Democrat.

Any story suggesting Feinstein could get bounced out in the primary needs to be treated skeptically. It could happen, but because of the top-two system she'd have to come in third place in the vote, not second. So a Democrat could beat her in the primary, but still have to face her again in November.

Much of the analysis of Feinstein's chances makes no mention of this incumbent-protecting quirk. Two pieces from FiveThirtyEight talk about potential primary challengers, but one of them assumes the winner will be facing a Republican the next fall. This CNN piece about state Senate leader Kevin de Leon taking her on as a challenger from the left grasps how California's primary system works…now. According to the correction at the bottom, both the headline and the story had to be edited because the original version did not accurately reflect the nature of California's primaries.

The reformists who ushered in California's top-two primary system insisted it would make races more competitive and, in cases where two candidates were of the same party, they'd have to work to get votes from elsewhere in order to win. The idea was that a top-two election system would prevent party polarization (watch a ReasonTV interview with a proponent of the system here) and create a more "functional" legislature.

In reality, election participation has dropped. Faced with two Democrats on the ballot, at least 2.2 million Californians who voted for president last fall did not bother voting for a senator.

That means Feinstein is possibly vulnerable, but not in the way the pundits think. Arguing that Feinstein is more "conservative" than Californians is based on how frequently her votes align with what President Donald Trump wants, which is a terrible measure (Trump is an authoritarian with no real discernable political philosophy).

Feinstein holds positions that align with perceptions of conservatism. After all this time, she opposes marijuana legalization. She supports government surveillance of citizens. She's with the law-and-order types in trying to force tech companies to break encryption privacy in order to serve the government's information needs.

But she's also a noted gun grabber and college campus free speech and protest censor. She's not a conservative—she's a statist, in the Michael Bloomberg, nanny-style,"government knows what's best for you" vein, which tracks pretty well with how the California government treats its citizens. To the extent that her votes align with Trump's desires, it's likely because neither of them has much respect for the Bill of Rights.

This also means Feinstein is going to have a tough time capturing cross-over votes. With her history of opposition to gun rights, conservatives are more likely not to vote than cross the aisle and vote for her come next November.

If that happens, Feinstein could lose to a Democratic populist, but it would because of who didn't vote, not because of who did.

NEXT: Can we trust government to correct our cognitive biases?

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  1. She is just another hawk who authors extremely bad legislation. It is an accident that she is a Democrat. Just another McCain-style Republican who has cleverly managed to hoodwink Californians

    1. There really aren’t any Republicans under there, you can go back to sleep, bud.

  2. Drumpf is an authoritarian with no real discernable political philosophy

    Republican. They are called Republicans. They run on a Republican ticket and are backed loyally by other Republicans.

    1. Who is Drumpf?

      1. Drumpf is what happens when you have a room-temperature IQ and try to type Trump.

        1. That was certainly a weird insult. Is “Drumpf” just supposed to be inherently funny or something? The “Make Donald Drumpf” again thing was just so weird.

          Reminds me of that Aspen episode of South Park where the bully guy insults Stan Marsh by calling him Stan Darsh.

          1. It’s German sounding so it proves he’s a Nazi. Maybe?

            1. No wait, it’s German sounding which proves he’s an immigrant. That was the deal.

              1. Well, John Oliver does hate immigrants.

          2. IIRC, “Drumpf” was Trump’s family name before they immigrated to the US, whereupon (like many other immigrants) the name was anglicized. Or at least that’s what the story was. But I never cared, so I never checked it’s it was true.

            I think it’s supposed to be a jab at “he’s from a family of immigrants too” or something. I don’t really get it.

            But I also don’t go for other petty insults like “libtard”, “demorat”, “rethuglican”, or “conserviturd”, so I’m not really the best person to explain the appeal.

            1. It wasn’t true. Which makes the continued usage even more funny.

            2. Don’t tell anyone I said this, but the only good insult is “Block Yomama”

            3. I’m sure you don’t, progtard.

      2. Is he related to the ? Cinn?ide family?

    2. Let’s see if i’m reading you right, new guy: Republicans are uniquely bad and Democrats who are bad are actually Republicans in disguise. Thanks for letting us know exactly how seriously to take you.

      1. He actually said that. About Feinstein.

        1. Broheim chose to screenname himself after his favorite intoxicant, apparently.

          1. I think it’s pretty obvious it’s a ‘not serious’ person with a name like Paint Thinner. Poe’s Law is a bitch, but sometimes context helps.

            1. If that’s the case, then i’m disappointed in the low-quality tediousness of this new spoof.

  3. Top two is the worst modern election reform. I have a hard time coming up with something more anti-democratic and hostile to voters. Winner-take-all is probably second, but a very distant one.

    It boggles my mind how despite the clear failures of the system in every state it has been implemented in, we still have people trying to get it implemented elsewhere.

    1. Yeah it’s pretty terrible. It doesn’t solve any problems. The logic behind it just doesn’t make any sense.

      1. It solves a problem. If you consider having a non-incumbent win a problem.

      2. The logic is that they are scared of third parties, so they want to squash them. And it works.

        1. actually I think they are afraid of TWO parties and want to squash them. This system guarantees a republican will never again be elected a senator in California.

          1. I don’t think they have any fear whatsoever of a Republican. They just recognize that since they have absolute control of the state that at least this way two democrats can run against each other in the actual election so there’s the illusion of a choice instead of the Primary serving as the election.

    2. In practice I think you are right about the consequences of such a system. I’m kind of sympathetic to the idea, though. Guaranteed access for certain parties isn’t very democratic either. If we had started out with a system like this (Maybe with top 3 going to the general election instead) it could work, I think. But with established parties like we have now, I can see the problems. But from a totally theoretical point of view, ignoring the existing party system, isn’t it more democratic in many ways if the two (or more if I were making the rules) most popular candidates are in the general election? Then more people actually get to vote for their preferred candidate.

  4. I must admit, I’d feel some deep, deep satisfaction if she retired because she lost rather than on her own terms.

    Though, if I had to pick one Senator for that to happen to, it would still be McCain.

    1. Man, McCain replaced Goldwater in the Senate way back in the 80s. I bet when McCain dies he’s going to become the politician extraordinaire in the Arizona conscious as well. Stealing the state further from some early small government beliefs.

    2. Such is McCain’s dedication to “public service” that the Reaper will no doubt have to drag him bodily from the Senate chambers. He’ll grab the doorframe with all four limbs.

  5. Even Satan occasionally has to fight off rebellion.

    1. Yeah, just last year there was that Bernie guy.

  6. what’s her appeal outside of her own party?

    She has increasing pull with the Necrophile vote?

    1. I can’t say from experience or nothing, but I imagine that necrophiles prefer better corpses than that.

      1. A corpse is a corpse
        Of course of course
        And nobody fucks with a corpse
        Of course
        That is of course unless that corpse
        Is the famous Mrs Dead

  7. Feinstein is the worst kind of politician — an authoritarian with no real discernible political philosophy. Just like Clinton and Trump.

    1. The word people would probably use is “pragmatist”.

  8. The idea that this primary system would make general election races more competiive does not bear close ecamination. If you have two people running from the same party then the party apparatus is going to be behind one of them, most likely the incumbant unless they have really annoyed their leadership. One of the candidates is going to be crippled from day one.

    1. Feature, not bug.

  9. And the fucking Supreme Court is toadying to the Wisconsin gerrymander whiners?

  10. The two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, face off again in November.

    So you’re saying a third party candidate has a chance?

    1. Yep. Same as a snowball in Hell.

  11. I’d say that a party has the right to field its own candidates – thus, if the Republicans and (say) Libertarians want to run in California, they have the right to have someone on the ballot who has the party’s backing, not just a party member who happened to pick up some votes from people both in and outside the party.

  12. I’ve read a few articles from Shackford complaining about California’s “jungle primary”, but I still don’t get what he thinks would happens otherwise.

    The current system basically allows everyone to run, then does a run-off for the position six months later. Minority parties are no more “locked out” then any third place loser in a two-way run-off. And if a party was really worried about splitting it’s voters? Then it could have a private primary before the official primary and put only one nominee on it.

    Really, if we’re going to have the government involved in primaries at all (hint: I don’t think we should) then this system that basically ignores party affiliation is infinitely better then the state meddling in party politics and running their primaries.

    1. It seems to me California’s system doesn’t allow a party, through the vote of its own members exclusively, to designate an official candidate of their party.

      1. (at least the ballot wouldn’t distinguish a candidate by party endorsement)

      2. Correct. The primary doesn’t care about party. It would have to be an entirely voluntary thing between party members.

        And frankly, seeing as government shouldn’t be in the business of meddling with political parties *anyway*, that seems preferable to me then the state enforcing roles on the parties.

        1. You have a fun idea of what constitutes meddling.

          1. In this case? State or federal law that recognizes and gives any special rights, privileges or funding to them, enforcing rules and playing arbiter in disputes, being that if other political non-profit organisations.

            Let political parties organize as non-profits, but they shouldn’t have any special access to ballots, and they certainly shouldn’t have states telling them how to run their primary and paying for it.

            If we *have* to have a state-managed primary, is rather keep parties out of it. Let folks qualify on their own merits, and then advance to the general on their own merits.

            1. Damn autocorrect.

              Should read “beyond that of other political non-profit organizations”.

            2. No no, I didn’t ask you anything, your position was already clear. You don’t know what meddling is.

            3. Because it is s “primary” (actually an open general election), i expect a party legally cannot bar anyone from running under their banner (see Republican efforts to prevent David Duke from running in their primary). The authors of this system are trashing any abikity for a party to control who it fields in an election.

              1. So, what you’re saying is we need to convince Hitler to run as a Democrat in California and there won’t be anything they can do to stop it. Then, we can point to the Democrats letting Hitler into their primary in California and use that as evidence that the Democrats are Nazi’s who want to cleanse the world of Jews. Then, profit as you watch Democrats play defense over their alleged Nazi sympathies while you sit back and watch Hitler extol the virtues of cleansing the world of Jews in the Democrat Primary.

                Now that is how you play politics.

                1. Of course, the whole plan falls apart when Hitler actually gets elected from all the name recognition and then you watch Democrats slowly come around to the idea of cleansing the world of Jews but hey when you’re making a fucking omelet…

  13. Faced with two Democrats on the ballot, at least 2.2 million Californians who voted for president last fall did not bother voting for a senator.

    Psh. Posers.

    1. I got them beat, I didn’t vote or either.


  14. Ever since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced she was going to run for re-election, there’s been a buzz about whether she’d face a primary challenger from the left.

    Did anyone seriously think an authoritarian was just going to walk away from all that delicious power?

  15. For what it’s worth, State Senate President Kevin De Leon is expected to announce his candidacy in the next few days.

    1. Stop the presses…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  16. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris

    I still throw up in my mouth a little whenever I read that.

    1. She just oozes lust for power. I bet she’s quite sticky with a strong odor of garbage.

      1. Sounds like a Future U.S. President to me.

        *begins banging head on desk*

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