With her announcement that she intends to run for a fifth full Senate term next year (she entered the Senate to serve out the last two years of Pete Wilson’s term in 1993), Dianne Feinstein surprised a lot of observers and at least temporarily frustrated the ambitions of California Democratic pols who have been eying her seat.
Implicitly, though, Feinstein also announced an intention to join the most select club in that clubbiest of institutions, the U.S. Senate: If she wins in 2018 and serves at least four and a half years of her term, she will turn 90 in office.
There have only been four serving nonagenarian senators: Carl Hayden of Arizona, who retired in 1969 at the age of 91; Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in office in 2010 at the age of 92; Theodore Green of Rhode Island, who retired in 1959 at the age of 93; and the all-time champion, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who retired in 2003 at the age of 100. Feinstein would obviously be the first woman to join that group.
As it happens, another member of Feinstein’s senatorial class, Orrin Hatch of Utah, could also turn 90 in office if he runs and serves another term; he’s nine months younger than his California colleague. And the second-oldest senator, Chuck Grassley (who is less than three months younger than Feinstein), shows no particular signs of slowing down, though he’ll be only 89 when his current term runs out.
Assuming Feinstein isn’t bluffing, it will be interesting to see if the likely challengers she draws openly talk about her age. Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, who insists he’s not thinking about running against Feinstein, put out a harsh statement today that danced all around the age question:
Feinstein is out of touch with the grassroots of our party on economic policy and foreign policy. After 47 years in elected office and 25 years in the Senate, she continues to cling to office as a voice for the status quo. The fact that the establishment is rallying around her re-election shows that D.C. insiders continue to privilege protecting one of their own over the voters’ concerns. How many times will voters have to demand change before we listen?
One of those “D.C. insiders” who rallied around the very senior senator from California was her relatively junior colleague Kamala Harris. It will be interesting to watch which way various California Democrats tilt on the question of Feinstein’s future, and how many of them allude to the number of candles on her upcoming birthday cakes.