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California Senate leader Kevin de Leon said to be leaning toward challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Seema Mehta and Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon is strongly considering challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, in her 2018 re-election bid, according to sources close to De Leon.

One veteran California politician, who asked for anonymity to freely discuss the matter, said De Leon considered a campaign launch earlier this week. But the decision was delayed by Feinstein's Monday announcement that she would run for re-election, which had been expected later in the year, as well as the wildfires ravaging the state.

CNN reported Thursday that De Leon intends to enter the race, attributing the story to three people with knowledge of his plans. Sources close to De Leon told the Los Angeles Times that, while he is leaning toward running, he has not yet made a final decision.

If De Leon challenges Feinstein, it could upend the 2018 election. Among the state's powerful Democratic elected officials and interests, the move would also likely be viewed as a display of disloyalty to a woman first elected to the Senate a quarter-century ago who is viewed nationally as a powerful and respected elder of the party.

De Leon's political advisers declined to comment Thursday, but a potential run by the state Senate leader has been the subject of widespread rumors that have heightened in recent weeks.

According to party insiders, De Leon's team has been reaching out to labor and party leaders about a potential mid-October launch.

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Immediately after Feinstein announced her plans to run again, De Leon's colleagues in the state Senate were asked by his allies to "keep their powder dry" and refrain from endorsing anyone in the race yet, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.

A top state Democratic leader told The Times that De Leon called him a couple of weeks ago seeking his advice on challenging the 84-year-old Feinstein. The leader, who also asked for anonymity to discuss the private conversation, ran through the obstacles De Leon was likely to face, from his lack of name identification among the state's voters to Feinstein's wealth and ability to self-fund a campaign.

"I told him despite all his notoriety for all of his good legislative accomplishments, most people don't know who the hell he is," the person said, adding that De Leon would also face a significant fundraising disadvantage.

Feinstein has long relationships with the donors in the state, and is wealthy enough to finance her own campaign. De Leon has raised money for his legislative races, but could not transfer that money to a federal campaign. And donors who are otherwise sympathetic to his cause might shy away from him to avoid angering Feinstein.


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