Dianne Feinstein Finally Agrees to “Debate” Senate Challenger, While Ensuring Almost No One Watches It

It’s on a Wednesday. At noon. Livestream only. You have to register to watch it. Oh, and it’s not a true debate.

At left, Sen. Kevin de Leon at a campaign stop at CHIRLA Action Fund headquarters on Sept. 25, 2018. At right, Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2018. Photos: Marcio Jose Sanchez, Alex Brandon/AP

Dianne Feinstein, the longtime California senator, has finally agreed to a share a stage with her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León, in what will be her first appearance alongside a general election opponent in 18 years. But it certainly seems as though the front-runner has gone out of her way to make sure that as few people see the proceedings as humanly possible.

The event, sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, is set for Wednesday, October 17, at noon PDT. According to the Sacramento Bee, the discussion will be webcast by the policy institute. There’s no indication that any TV or radio outlet will be able to air it. The event is not yet listed on the institute’s events page, even though people who want to view it must register on its website.

Every major media outlet in the state has offered to co-host a debate between the two Democrats before the November 6 election. Some representatives have even made personal appeals on Twitter to the candidates. Nevertheless, the debate will have no live TV component.

It will also not be a debate, but rather a “discussion.” The two candidates will share the same stage, but will not be allowed to engage with one another. Public Policy Institute of California President Mark Baldassare will ask questions of Feinstein and de León separately, and they will have three minutes to answer. De León’s campaign requested that the event not be advertised as a debate, arguing that it wasn’t one, and Feinstein’s campaign eventually agreed to that stipulation.

De León has accused Feinstein of “running out the clock” and ducking debates after she promised to hold them earlier in the year. Throughout the fall, Feinstein’s team has said they would get around to debating, though the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court was consuming most of the senator’s time. De León pointed out that Feinstein still managed to come to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles in order to fundraise on weekends during the Kavanaugh saga, despite claiming that she was too busy to focus on the Senate election.

Jeffrey Millman, a spokesperson for Feinstein, said on Twitter that the campaign agreed to the discussion on October 2 and had been working out the details over the past week. A representative for de León responded that their candidate had agreed to the event back in June.

“Apparently @SenFeinstein believes a luncheon (with no live TV broadcast) is the best venue to communicate with voters,” tweeted de León’s campaign manager, Jonathan Underland. “We disagree.”

De León, despite endorsements by the California Democratic Party and the state labor federation, has struggled to get attention and adequate funding for his progressive challenge to Feinstein. Polls have tightened somewhat: The Public Policy Institute of California’s September survey showed Feinstein ahead by 11 points, at 40-29 — half of the 22-point lead, at 46-24, in a SurveyUSA poll from June. However, the policy institute also found that about one-quarter of those surveyed would not vote for either candidate; taking them out of the equation, Feinstein would have the support of over half of those with a preference.

Since the beginning of the campaign, de León has sought a game-changing event that would bring wider attention to the race. A “discussion” that takes places in the middle of the day and in the middle of the week — to be shown only on the web — may not do the trick.

Top photo: At left, Sen. Kevin de Leon at a campaign stop at CHIRLA Action Fund headquarters on Sept. 25, 2018. At right, Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2018.

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