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De León struggles against Feinstein in Senate fundraising race

U.S. Senate candidate, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D- Los Angeles, speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
U.S. Senate candidate, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D- Los Angeles, speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

California Senate President Kevin de León got some much needed momentum for his longshot challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein over the winter, winning a string of endorsements from organized labor and denying Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, an endorsement from the state party.

Those victories didn't, however, translate into a fundraising boost, new financial reports show. De León still faces the same massive financial gap against Feinstein that he did at the end of 2017. As of March 31, Feinstein had stockpiled $10.4 million in her campaign bank account, while de León’s campaign reported a total of $672,000 in the bank – a 20-to-1 advantage.

Feinstein, who’s served in the U.S. Senate since 1992, actually increased her cash-on-hand advantage slightly in the first quarter of 2018, from $9.4 million to $9.6 million.

Feinstein raised nearly $1.2 million in the first three months of the year, compared to $672,000 for her challenger. In total, Feinstein has raised more than $12 million for her reelection, although $5 million of that has come from a personal loan. De León has now raised more than $1 million for his bid to oust Feinstein.

De León’s attempt to take on Feinstein from the left was always going to be an uphill climb, given the incumbent’s name recognition, longstanding ties to the Democratic establishment and deep pockets. De León, who is term-limited out of his post in the state Senate this year, has represented Los Angeles in the Legislature since 2006. But he has little name recognition statewide.

He has tried to appeal to liberals in the party base who virulently dislike President Trump and don’t believe Feinstein has been aggressive enough in pushing back against the current administration.

That pitch won de León some significant endorsements from the Service Employees International Union of California, California Nurses Association and others over the winter. He also won more votes than Feinstein at the California Democratic Party convention in late February, though not enough to win the party endorsement outright. Since the fundraising quarter ended, de León has nabbed the endorsement of the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO.

De León’s lack of resources, however, remains a significant hurdle. He and Feinstein are poised to face off not just in the June primary but in the general election, as well, thanks to California’s “top two” primary system. Republicans have failed to field a viable candidate in the race. The state, moreover, is one of the most expensive places to campaign in the country, given its geographic sprawl and pricey media markets.

De León campaign manager Courtni Pugh said in a statement that the state senator “isn’t running to outraise or outspend his opponent, who happens to be one of the wealthiest members of Congress. He’s running because the status quo in Washington, D.C. isn’t advocating on behalf of everyday Californians, and that needs to change.”

This story was updated to include a reference to de León’s California Labor Federation endorsement on April 12.

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei

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