Thomas Elias: Don’t discount a fifth Feinstein reelection
The polls don’t look super-strong for Dianne Feinstein today. True, she has a very good approval rating in the latest surveys, the Field Poll showing 44 percent of California voters think she’s doing a good job and only 29 percent disapproving of her work.
But the same surveys indicate that even though a generation or two has come of age since she won her U.S. Senate seat in 1992, fully 43 percent of likely voters think it would not be a good thing for her to seek reelection to a fifth full term in 2018, when the former San Francisco mayor would be 84 years old. So just as many people want her to retire as think she’s doing well right now.
Simply put, that’s age discrimination. But Democrat Feinstein also faces the same problem that perennially afflicts all senators from California, one that’s caused plenty to lose their seats when seeking reelection: This state is so big that even with six years of congressional recesses to use, no one can possibly become familiar to the great majority of voters without running a large advertising campaign.
Yet, no senator can afford that until it’s time for a reelection campaign to start. As Feinstein’s longtime Democratic colleague, the soon-to-retire Barbara Boxer, said in an interview as her 2010 campaign began, “You have to reintroduce yourself to the voters every six years. A lot of them just don’t know you.”
That’s political reality in this huge state, where the average person moves once every seven years and senators spend most of their time about 3,000 miles away.
So it’s easy for people who see Feinstein’s age and not her energy to opine that she shouldn’t run. Certainly, there’s a large cadre of her fellow Democrats who feel that way: Many of them would dearly love to take her job.
But Feinstein has hung onto that job by doing it well, acting as a moderate with friends and allies in both parties even while the Senate sees more partisan bitterness and bickering than it has in the last century.
Emblematic was how she handled a raucous public hearing about land use in the California desert held last fall in a large tent set up about five miles off the Interstate 10 freeway near Palm Springs. Feinstein has pushed for about seven years to create three national monuments in large portions of the Mojave Desert lying between Barstow, Needles and Twentynine Palms. The crowd of 800 under the tent in 100-degree-plus temperatures wildly favored her plan, which has been stymied by Republicans in Congress, while President Obama dithers about it.
When those present loudly booed an aide to Yucca Valley’s Republican Rep. Paul Cook, who wants the land to remain open to development, mining and other activities, Feinstein stood with an arm around his shoulders and shushed the crowed. It was another case of her treating a political opponent in a civilized manner that’s uncommon today.
That sort of behavior has long prevented Republicans from considering her an enemy even while she advocates policies they may not like.
At the same time, no one has been more vigorous than Feinstein on issues like torture, of which she has been a major opponent for years, even while voting for laws like the Patriot Act. Although she no longer chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee because Republicans control the Senate, no senator is more active on national security issues, even if some have been much louder.
The upshot is that Feinstein still operates in much the same manner she has since first getting elected in 1992, when she ousted Republican incumbent John Seymour, who had been appointed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to the seat he had occupied for eight years.
When they see that, and they see Feinstein in operation, as television commercials will surely depict, there’s a good chance the age issue making many voters skeptical of whether she should run again could simply disappear. Which means those polls questioning whether someone her age should be a senator might just turn around completely.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net
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