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De León pledges change, strikes progressive notes as he kicks off US Senate campaign

Kevin de León mingles with supporters at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College on Oct. 18, 2018. He delivered a campaign speech there, kicking off his bid to unseat California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein. Mary Plummer/KPCC

California's Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León held his first campaign event Wednesday in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, sounding a progressive call for change.

At the Los Angeles Trade Technical College in downtown L.A., the Democrat signaled he is challenging the status quo in taking on the states's longtime senior senator, Dianne Feinstein.

He told the crowd of hundreds at Los Angeles Trade Technical College that Washington needs to be disrupted.

"The D.C. playbook is obsolete and it is time that we the people of California bring the agenda to Washington, not the other way around," he said to cheers from his supporters.

De León did not directly attack Feinstein by name during his speech, but did promise to be an agent of change who would break through the political gridlock in Washington. He repeatedly highlighted what he sees as California's recent legislative successes on issues like healthcare, protecting immigrants and climate change.

He also indicated he would aggressively fight against many of President Donald Trump's policies.

"California should always be a place where you can be whoever you are, and become whoever you dream of being. California should always stand up for you. That's a principle bigger than partisanship and more powerful than any president of the United States of America," he said. 

The race could prove to be an expensive faceoff for the two Democrats.

Feinstein's latest campaign report, released just a few days ago, shows she has nearly $4 million in cash on hand. De León is just beginning to raise funds for the contest. While he is a veteran at attracting financial support, he has considerable ground to cover to overcome her financial advantage.

A campaign spokesman said de León has no plans to use $3.7 million left over from previous state campaign funds for his bid to unseat Feinstein, but that the state senator has already received hundreds of donations for his Senate bid since announcing his intentions over the weekend. 

Judith Ingram, a press officer for the Federal Election Commission, said de León's only option would be to refund the leftover funds from the state campaigns and try to re-solicit them.

"A candidate’s authorized (federal) committee may not accept funds or assets transferred from a committee established by the same candidate for a non-federal election campaign," she wrote in an email to KPCC. 

Feinstein, 84, is the oldest serving U.S. senator. She has represented the state in the Senate since 1992 and is facing her strongest challenger yet in de León.