Senator Diane Feinstein’s vote against the compromise leading to halting the federal government shutdown says a lot about the shape of California politics and about the cross pressures within the state’s Democratic Party.  In the past, Senator Feinstein could have been expected to be one of the Senate’s centrist ringleaders seeking a middle ground—not this year.

There is no question that Senator Feinstein is a strong supporter of DACA and progressive immigration reforms, but her normal modus operandi is to work largely behind the scenes and engage in the art of the possible.  With a 2018 re-election campaign underway against a hard-charging “progressive” challenger, she obviously felt constrained to join Senator Kamala Harris, and other liberal stalwarts and would-be presidential contenders, in taking a hard line on demanding immediate action on DACA.

State Senator Kevin de Leon, Feinstein’s principal opponent, has criticized her for not being tough enough on the immigration issue, for not wholeheartedly supporting single payer health care, and for not opposing President Donald Trump loudly enough.  On paper, Feinstein should be a shoo in for reelection, but with her age and the current anti-incumbent sentiment, she is gearing up for her first serious challenge in decades.  Any deviation from a “DACA or nothing” stance could spell trouble in a state that is overwhelmingly pro-immigrant—and anti-Trump.

In politics, motivation is paramount and, these days, the emotional intensity is very much on the left side of the ideological spectrum, particularly in California.  With the state Republican Party pretty much out of the picture—no serious GOP candidate has entered the U.S. Senate race, much of the focus will be on the more liberal Democratic base; that’s where de Leon is pinning his hopes.

Feinstein is ahead in the polls, but there are some warning signs.  UC Berkeley’s IGS poll in December found her with a 41% to 27% lead over deLeon and a September IGS survey showed her with a 50% favorable rating,,but that’s down from 59% in March.  The September poll also said 45% of California voters were inclined to support Feinstein’s re-election but41% weren’t.  Any reticence about supporting the Senator’s re-election is probably not based on anything in her record or her stands, but rather on a desire for new blood in government and utter disgust with the Washington establishment.  

In the end, Senator Feinstein should win.  She has huge advantages over all her opponents in fund-raising and name recognition. And Senator Harris, the current darling of Democratic liberals, has given her colleague a full-throated endorsement.   In recent polls, de Leon is drawing support from a large swath of Republican voters, who are likely to desert quickly when de Leon’s liberal positions are front and center-and “Anybody but Feinstein” starts looking a little risky.  While de Leon has the potential to mobilize many Latino voters, it is hard to imagine most of the Democratic base, especially women, deserting Senator Feinstein in November.

Nevertheless, Senator Feinstein’s posture on the DACA issue is another clear sign that 2018 will not be business as usual in politics. There is no more “business as usual” in politics.