Winning the endorsement of California’s Democratic Party in early July, veteran Latino politician and state Sen. Kevin de León makes a run at unseating U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein– a fixture in national politics. With the upset by de León, a long-time advocate around immigrant-rights, no doubt the topic of immigration and issues surrounding it will take a high profile during the months of the campaign.
With the electorate’s tendency to re-elect incumbent politicians, pundits characterize De León’s efforts to unseat the 85-year-old senator who’s represented California in the U.S. Senate since 1992 as a long shot. However, De León’s performance in the race thus far puts him in the running. In June, the 51-year-old veteran legislator and senior state lawmaker finished in second place, garnering only 12 percent of the vote in California’s primary election while Feinstein won 44 percent of the vote. And because California election laws place the top two performing candidates on the ballot without regard to political affiliation, Democrats De León and Feinstein will face off against each other again in November.
With his win of the state’s Democratic Party endorsement, de León could begin closing the gap, as gaining the party’s backing provides him a kind of lifeline. Currently at a 10-to-1 funding disadvantage to Feinstein, according to New York Magazine, as the beneficiary of the party, “de León will benefit from heavily distributed endorsement mailers and flyers, and a shot at joint fundraising appeals. And he will be in the position to depict himself as something other than an insurgent protest candidate.”
Arguably, de León’s fight is one he has long prepared for with his political activism dating back to the 1990’s and then eventually rising to lead the California State Senate, becoming the first person of color in the body’s 133-year history in the leadership position. In his early days of activism, de León organized protests and led marches when California passed Proposition 187, which publicly-funded services like schools and hospitals from use by undocumented immigrants. More recently, he shepherded the California Values Act– a kind of state sanctuary bill– through California’s Senate.
“We have to disrupt the status quo,” de León says of his run for national office in a Mother Jones interview. “We have to disrupt the status quo. You can’t push the envelope. You have to take the envelope and tear it apart.”
In terms of representing the whole state of California as opposed to only liberal-minded constituents to the left of Feinstein, de León characterizes his leadership as inclusive, even to supporters of President Donald Trump.
“At the end of the day, it’s about opportunity,” he says. “That’s what people want, and right now we have a system that’s rigged against the majority of Americans.”
As far as what the future holds, de León describes himself as “incredibly optimistic and hopeful for this country, for our state, because this still is the greatest nation in the world because it is a beautiful mosaic. It is an amazing tapestry of humans and ethnicities from around the world.”
In terms of California itself, he says, “we don’t ban our diversity, we don’t deport our diversity, and we sure as hell don’t wall it off.”