I was among the 500 people crammed into a hall in San Francisco to hear what two candidates had to say who are hoping to be sworn in as California’s U.S. Senator in January.

The incumbent, Dianne Feinstein faced off against Kevin de Leon, her challenger.

The current title holder, hoping for a 6th historic term, is ahead 10 points in the latest polls—slightly less than in July.

This has given some boost to her confident challenger who is president pro tem emeritus of the state Senate and was the first Latino to serve in that position in over a century.

De Leon received the somewhat surprising endorsement of the California Democratic Party—something of a coup—which Feinstein’s forces have dismissed saying the only vote that counts is on Election Day.

Since no Republican made it to the general election after the state’s open primary, this is largely an intramural affair with little drama that most experts believe will have a predictable outcome.

It was billed as a “conversation” rather than a debate and lived up to its promise as advertised.

There were no fireworks whatsoever and the attentive audience made up half each of both candidate’s supporters sat silently after being admonished to hold all applause and hollering until the end.

That might not have been necessary since the decorum at what can often be a raucous proceeding was more akin to a PTA meeting.

This was assured by Mark Baldassare, the well-known pollster who doubles as president of and CEO of the PPIC (the Public Policy Institute of California) which sponsored the event, who, serving as the soft-spoken moderator, did little to encourage fist-a-cuffs.

Tossing mostly softballs at each candidate, the audience strained to find any real differences.

In short, except for de Leon’s more leftist inclinations, on most issues either candidate could probably have written the other’s speeches.

This civility suited Feinstein perfectly who is known for making calm, carefully reasoned and deliberate speeches that have endeared her to the moderates in both parties.

Last summer in a talk at the California Commonwealth Club her slip of the tongue when she said that “He (Trump) could still be a good president,” got her in some hot water with party activists which has hounded her.

At the recent Justice Kavanaugh confirmation hearings where Feinstein was criticized for withholding for too long the confidential letter from his sexual assault accuser, she left little doubt about any remaining hopes for this president.

Nevertheless, this customary restraint is seen as a weakness in the eyes of the party’s more liberal wing who are itching for a brawl after the Kavanaugh debacle and the daily dose about every new presidential wrongdoing.

De Leon fits the description of an unabashedly partisan warrior who eager to take on the Establishment.

But if he hoped for some dramatic clashes that could boost his credentials, he had to be disappointed.  In fact, other than on their approaches there was little upon which the candidates disagreed.

De Leon makes clear that immigration reform is his number one issue which resonates with many Democrats but takes second place to housing, healthcare and transportation concerns for most voters.

“I want Congress to do more than just talk about it,” thundered de Leon. “Congress has done nothing for 25 years.”

De Leon also sites his leadership role in fighting climate change and building a “clean energy” economy.

While Feinstein’s environmentalist credentials are suspect in some quarters who see her friendliness with business interests as a shortcoming, she gets insufficient credit for her efforts in preserving the Mojave Desert, Lake Tahoe and California’s forests.

On pushing for tougher gun control laws, Feinstein takes a back seat to no one as the original author of legislation to impose a permanent assault weapons ban.

This is something liberals can easily get behind.

Neither candidate showed much enthusiasm for the hi-speed rail proposal—one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy projects—or the current plans that call for the single or two-tunnel approach for shipping water from the Sacramento River basin to drought-stricken Central Valley and Southern California.

The answer to the final question may have been the most dissatisfying depending upon your political bent when each was asked whether they favored impeachment.

De Leon shot back immediately, “I favored it from the beginning.”

Feinstein did not respond, well aware that if re-elected she might one day have to sit in judgement over the president’s fate if the issue gets as far as the Senate which has final say.

For voters it will boil down to a stark choice:

Do they prefer a wise, battle-hardened, compromise-seeking insider who enjoys great seniority and has long since mastered the Senate’s intricacies?

Or are they willing to put their money on a much younger, hard-driving challenger, impatient with the slow pace of change who thinks he can make his mark quickly and is eager to step up?

Feinstein—ever the realist—counters that change is not easy when both houses of Congress and the executive branch are controlled by the same party.

This “conversation” will do little to change minds. If Feinstein—looking ageless at 85 —can convince voters that she remains at the top of her game—she wins. Her decision to hold one debate, indicates she is taking no chances.

De Leon, who is practically an adolescent at 51, has other chances if he loses and is in the vanguard of a generation of bright and ambitious newcomers who are offering California and the nation fresh faces.

Discontent is sweeping the country as we approach the critical November elections and anything has become possible.