LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein cruised to first place in California's primary on Tuesday in her bid for a fifth full term in Washington.
In a video statement delivered from Washington, Feinstein pledged to "protect California" in "difficult and contentious times." With about 2.2 million votes counted, Feinstein had 44 percent.
Fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, the heavy favorite to finish second and advance to the November runoff, was next with 10 percent and had a slight lead over little-known Republican James Bradley. California sends the two highest vote-getters to the general election regardless of party.
Feinstein heads to November with more than $7 million in the bank. A Feinstein-de Leon general election would be California's second U.S. Senate contest featuring two Democrats. In 2016, then-state attorney general Kamala Harris defeated U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
Feinstein won her U.S. Senate seat in 1992 after serving as San Francisco's mayor and running unsuccessfully for governor. At 84, she is the chamber's oldest member.
She's also one of the most well-known politicians in California and has a sizeable war chest to communicate her message.
She's highlighted her successful 1994 effort to ban assault weapons, which has since expired, and legislation to protect the environment as evidence that she understands Californians' priorities. She pledged in her victory statement to fight for a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, women's reproductive rights and universal health care.
She's staking her claim as a champion of core Democratic priorities as de Leon attempts to paint her as too deferential to President Donald Trump. Early returns showed de Leon in a neck-and-neck battle for second place against Bradley.
De Leon is considered Feinstein's most credible challenger given his history leading the state Senate and authorizing the "sanctuary state" legislation, among pushing other Democratic priorities. Bradley, meanwhile, has never held elected office and raised less than $5,000.
He generated some interest among Republicans after a one-off poll showed him close behind de Leon, helping him win the endorsement of a conservative San Diego radio host leading the GOP effort to repeal the state's gas tax increase.
Regardless of the challenger, Feinstein is the heavy favorite heading into November. She has heavy name recognition across California and considerable clout in the Senate, where she serves as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
But activists denied her the California Democratic Party's endorsement in February, highlighting frustrations among some of the most liberal members about Feinstein's interactions with Trump and stance on issues such as immigration.
De Leon has sought to seize on that vulnerability by making the case that he better represents California's values in the Trump era. "This race is a fight for California's future," de Leon told supporters Tuesday night.
He stopped short of declaring himself the second-place finisher, but knocked Feinstein for allegedly coming late to a handful of liberal issues, highlighting her recent reversal on her decades-old support for the death penalty.
"Real leadership is doing the right thing even when no one is watching - or running against you in an election," he said.
Sue Regan, a 66-year-old retired psychiatrist, said she voted for de Leon because Feinstein is "too old" and too conservative on certain issues. Feinstein would turn 90 in her next term if re-elected.
"Feinstein's time is up," said Regan, a registered Democrat from Sacramento. "I know that Kevin de Leon would not have the power that she has in the Senate, it would take him some time to develop that, but I think he's very liberal, and I support the causes that he does."
But Feinstein's age didn't stop 82-year-old Jay Smith, a registered Republican, from casting his vote for her. "I went to Stanford and so did Dianne Feinstein," he said. "I don't care how old she is."