LOS ANGELES — Former President Barack Obama on Friday endorsed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bid to fend off a reelection challenge from within the Democratic Party’s left flank, calling the California senator “one of America’s most effective champions for progress.”
The endorsement — a rare intervention from Obama — served as the highest profile rebuke yet of state Sen. Kevin de León’s longshot effort to unseat Feinstein.
Feinstein and Obama have a relationship dating to their time as senators together, and Feinstein — a major supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2008 — hosted a key meeting between Obama and Clinton at her Washington home at the end of that presidential contest.
Feinstein, a centrist and an institution in California Democratic politics, has maintained large leads over de León both in fundraising and polls ahead of the state’s June primary election. But she has also suffered from increasing angst among progressive activists here, failing to secure the state Democratic Party’s endorsement earlier this year.
“I’m proud to give Dianne Feinstein my strong endorsement for her reelection to the United States Senate,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “She’s always been an indispensable leader for California, and we became dear friends and partners in the fight to guarantee affordable healthcare and economic opportunity for everybody; to protect our planet from climate change, and our kids from gun violence.”
He said, “I ask Californians to join me in supporting Dianne Feinstein’s reelection and returning one of America’s most effective champions for progress to the Senate.”
Feinstein is heavily favored by the state’s Democratic establishment, with support from Gov. Jerry Brown, junior Sen. Kamala Harris and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But de León has threatened to make the race competitive, drawing endorsements from influential labor groups and from Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic mega-donor. Feinstein and de León are widely expected to advance from California’s top-two primary to a run-off in the fall.