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The Feinstein exit question

Just like that, the official watch for when California Senator Dianne Feinstein will step down has begun. It took just one story published last week in The New Yorker to open a floodgate of speculation about what was obvious but unstated to many: When will the storied 87-year-old politician bow out?

The New Yorker piece quoted many unnamed observers about a continued diminishment of mental capacity at committee hearings and behind closed doors. This quickly begat a Washington Post story, a San Francisco Chronicle story, a Sunday segment on CNN’s Reliable Sources, and a CalMatters column Monday.

But what these stories missed was the most telltale evidence of all: the fundraising facts, which often reveals so much.

For starters, in the two years since winning her sixth term, Feinstein has raised very little for a U.S. senator. The 33 senators elected or re-elected in 2018 like Feinstein currently have averaged raising $2 million each so far. By comparison, Feinstein has raised $160,000. This is the second lowest total among her cohort of senators. Only 77-year-old Maryland Senator Mike Cardin raised less ($132,532).

This is also nearly 30 times less than the $4.5 million Feinstein raised the first two years (2013-2014) of her previous term.

Second, some of her possible Democratic successors have already built huge war chests. Through Nov 23, FEC filings show Burbank’s U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff has $13,720,848 cash on hand, and Orange County’s Rep. Katie Porter has raised $10,230,422. These war chests could also be used to run for the Kamala Harris seat in 2022, though Gov. Gavin Newsom will soon fill that seat.

And they are hardly the only Democrats interested in moving up to the U.S. Senate, but they are establishing a very steep price of admission into the race.

The only question is whether Feinstein completes her current term that runs through 2024. But although all those anonymous sources are talking, don’t expect Feinstein’s possible successors to verbally usher her out the door. In an interview this weekend, Schiff even claimed he’s seen no evidence of cognitive decline in Feinstein and called her still one of the Senate greats.

In other words, the campaign to succeed her is already fully on.

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