SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — California voters decisively endorsed long-serving U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday, sending the powerful Democrat back to the nation’s capital for a fourth term as her party again secured a Senate majority to maintain the control they’ve held since 2007.
The Democrats snatched Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turned back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin to secure a majority.
Here in California, Feinstein, 79, handily beat Republican neophyte Elizabeth Emken. The Golden State’s senior senator was far better known and better financed than Emken, 49, an autism activist who lacked political experience and the fundraising skills to mount a credible challenge.
“I’m very grateful to the people of California. This is the state of my birth, my education, my life and I care deeply about it,” Feinstein said Tuesday night. “I am prepared to spend virtually all of my time to try to solve the very difficult and complicated issues that we face. So thank you, thank you, thank you for having the confidence in me and I will do everything in my power to justify the next six years.”
The popular former San Francisco mayor campaigned on her legislative record over three terms, especially on the economy and national security, as well as her years in government.
Emken presented herself as a reform-minded outsider, but was ultimately unable to overcome the relentless decline of the California Republican Party and her own lack of experience. Email and telephone messages left for her campaign weren’t immediately returned.
A resident of Danville, Emken remained unknown to most California voters even as she beat 23 other little-known GOP candidates in the June primary.
Feinstein had gathered more than $8.6 million, despite being one of many Democratic candidates and officeholders victimized in an embezzlement scandal involving a former campaign treasurer. In contrast, Emken’s campaign struggled to stay out of the red and had raised roughly $666,000 at the time of the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.
Feinstein, known as a centrist dealmaker, remains one of the most popular and well-known politicians in state history. She said she continues to place national security as a top priority as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and “being able to protect our country from attacks across the world.”
The senator also wants to push an environmental agenda, particularly one that recognizes that global warming is real.
“The storm that happened on the East Coast is a symptom and we need, as the president has said, to move to a clean-energy future,” she said in a phone interview.
Feinstein also said she intends to introduce an even tougher assault weapons ban.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)