SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Just two weeks out from the Democratic Primary, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has dropped her backing for the death penalty, a reversal of decades-long support.
“It became crystal clear to me that the risk of unequal application is high and its effect on deterrence is low,” the 84-year-old said in a Wednesday statement, adding that the change came “several years ago.”
However, Feinstein hasn’t publicly discussed it until now, and just ahead of the June 5 primary in her bid for a fifth full term in Washington. Feinstein’s toughest challenger is Democratic state Sen. Kevin de Leon, who argues she is out of touch with California values.
The two candidates with the highest number of votes in the primary advance to November regardless of party, and there are no prominent Republicans in the contest.
De Leon blocked Feinstein from receiving the California Democratic Party’s endorsement at its annual convention in February, a window into her troubles with some of the activist base. De Leon seized on her death penalty shift as further evidence that Feinstein is worried about her base of support.
“This latest flip on the death penalty is yet another appeal to California voters who have outgrown her centrist bent,” de Leon spokesman Jonathan Underland said.
Still, Feinstein remains popular and has a significant edge on de Leon in name recognition and money, two critical elements for a successful statewide campaign. She’s run successful campaigns in the past by picking up Democrats as well as California’s independent voters, who now make up almost as large a share of the electorate as Republicans.
Although the death penalty is legal in California, the state has not executed an inmate since 2006.
Last August, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 66, a ballot measure approved by voters in November 2016 to speed up executions. The measure aims to expedite death sentences in part by setting a five-year deadline on court appeals by condemned inmates.
In that same election, voters also defeated a proposition which would have abolished the death penalty in favor of life in prison.
Only 13 death row inmates have been executed in California since 1978.
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