For 26 years, Dianne Feinstein has represented the Golden State as a senator, but now she faces a challenging re-election campaign against a crowded field of candidates — including many who are eager to bring up her anti-cannabis history.
Often called California’s “Iron Lady” and the oldest U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein rose from a position of utter obscurity as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the position of San Francisco’s first female mayor, following the untimely deaths of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. In 1992, she was elected to the U.S. Senate, where she has remained comfortably ever since. Now, Feinstein is facing a tough bid for re-election, with 31 challengers certified by the Secretary of State to run in the June 5 primary. Two will advance to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation. So, out of this crowded field, does anyone have a chance to dethrone California’s Iron Lady?
The Early Leaders
On Mar. 25, SurveyUSA conducted a poll of likely California primary voters and found that only 31 percent said they would vote for Feinstein in the primary, though she had the highest percentage of anyone in the field. Interestingly, the next most likely voted-for candidate on the poll was Stephen Schrader, a Republican, who missed the deadline to officially file with the state and will not appear on the June ballot. After Schrader, Kevin De León, a Democratic State Senator, and Patrick Little, a Trump-supporting Republican, are the two most likely challengers, both of whom the poll found had 5 percent of likely votes.
In terms of campaign finances, Feinstein has the most funding, with $13 million dollars, according to the government transparency website Open Secrets, based upon the most recent campaign filings from the end of 2017.
The next best-funded candidate is De León, who has over $430,000 dollars raised. The only other two candidates to raise or spend over six figures are progressive Democratic challengers Alison Hartson and Pat Harris. Hartson has raised over $200,000 dollars and Harris has raised over $300,000 dollars.
There are no major GOP candidates in the race, which could explain why 29 percent of voters said they were “undecided” in the SurveyUSA poll. The lack of strong GOP candidates will likely mean a face-off between Senator Feinstein and another Democrat in the November election.
Feinstein’s Cannabis Record
As one might imagine from the oldest currently serving senator, Feinstein’s views do not always fit with those of a majority of Californians, and cannabis is a great example of that. While 94 percent of Americans support medical cannabis, and 57 percent of California voters passed Prop. 64 to legalize adult-use cannabis, Feinstein remains strongly opposed to adult-use and favors medical cannabis only in very limited contexts.
Last year, Feinstein told Rolling Stone, when it comes to legalizing cannabis, “I’m not there. I think there’s a lot about marijuana we don’t know… I think marijuana has potential dangers to it.”
In 2010, she came out strongly against Prop. 19, which would have legalized adult-use cannabis in her home state.
Given Feinstein’s uncertainty about legalization, some of her challengers have been particularly vocal about cannabis. Out of the 31 challengers, three have stood out on cannabis policy: Harris, De León and Hartson.
Harris has perhaps been the most vocal about legal cannabis, as he even attended the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in San Francisco earlier this year. Harris has worked for decades as a criminal defense attorney and said at the conference that he saw “people’s lives ruined over small amounts of pot and saw the racial disparities in how it was enforced.” After witnessing the destruction of the war on drugs firsthand, Harris “knew cannabis had to be legalized.”
De León has also come out publically for cannabis. On Jan. 23, his office released a statement urging Congress to pass Representative Barbara Lee’s HR 4779, the REFER Act, which would prevent federal funding from being used to go after cannabis businesses or individuals in compliance with state cannabis laws.
That statement is perhaps the first piece of cannabis policy that De León has ever authored, and it is merely a letter of support. The LA Times reports that during the Prop. 64 campaign to legalize cannabis in California, De León was “not there yet” when it came to legalization. Dale Gieringer, the California director for National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), commented that while “cannabis is not his issue,” De León’s “record is certainly better than Dianne Feinstein’s.”
As for Hartson, who is running as a member of the “Justice Democrats” — a group founded by Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, cannabis legalization isn’t publicly listed on her priorities, but she did tell Cannabis Now over email that she feels that cannabis legalization is “critical for our freedom, health, and economic security.”
“The war on marijuana costs us billions of dollars, encourages crime and criminalizes otherwise upstanding citizens, targeting our most vulnerable communities and preventing people with illnesses from having affordable access to necessary medicine,” she wrote.
For Hartson, the fight for cannabis legalization isn’t just about economics and poll numbers, it is personal, as she has “people in my family and circle of friends who rely on marijuana for medicinal purposes.” She also called attention to the issue of “monopolies on the marijuana industry” being a threat to “working class families.”
The Mercury News reports that Hartson has done incredibly well in terms of small donors, receiving “more money in small-dollar donations than Feinstein and De León combined.” Despite that strong performance with average voters, Hartson has only raised half of De León’s total, which is still a pittance compared to Feinstein’s $13 million dollars.
The Fall of Feinstein?
So, what are Feinstein’s chances of winning her senate re-eleciton campaign? Given her many advantages as an incumbent and her vast financial resources, it currently seems unlikely that any of Feinstein’s challengers will be able to unseat her.
The key word there is currently, as a great deal can change between now and the November general election, and with only 31 percent of likely voters supporting her, Senator Feinstein’s seat is by no means safe.
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