The U.S. Senate race in California between incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former California state Senate president pro tem Kevin de León has been treated as a foregone conclusion for quite some time, and not for altogether bad reasons—Feinstein took just over 44 percent of the vote in California’s June primary while de León, a fellow Democrat, came in at second with just over 12 percent.
But as The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday, Feinstein—who recently played a high-profile role in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings—is barely giving de León (who, earlier this year, won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party) the time of day. To wit: the campaigns have finally agreed to their first debate, which isn’t really a debate at all and which absolutely no one will see.
From the Bee:
The two Democrats have committed to a discussion hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California. The event, which will take place in San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at noon, is set to be streamed online.
In an announcement Wednesday, Feinstein’s team labeled it a “debate.” De León, who has been demanding a debate with his opponent for months, firmly rejects that description.
“They are not allowed to address each other,” said spokesman Jonathan Underland, who also took issue with the time and limited reach of the livestream. “Debates are about access and who can watch it.”
Hilariously, Feinstein consultant Bill Carrick favorably compared the debate to Monday’s California gubernatorial debate between Democratic lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom and Trump-endorsed Republican businessman John Cox, which took place at 10 AM on a radio show. He also disputed that it wouldn’t be a debate. “Kevin de León can say any damn thing he wants,” Carrick told the Bee. “I don’t know what this childish semantics thing they’re into is all about.”
The last time Feinstein debated anyone, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was in 2000.
As the Intercept’s David Dayen noted this morning, the polls in the race have tightened a bit, with the Public Policy Institute of California’s September poll showing that de Léon had halved Feinstein’s lead from the same poll in July, when Feinstein led by 22 points. Feinstein still led among Democratic likely voters by 30 points, however, which is bad news for de León, who’s tried to outflank her on the left.
With that in mind, it makes sense that Feinstein wouldn’t want to risk making a giant mistake in a debate right before the election. But not having a proper, televised debate sure as hell doesn’t help Californians on the fence about who they want to vote for.