OCTOBER 6, 2016 4:00 AM
Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer endorse Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate

Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a meet and greet at Building and Construction Trades Council in Los Angeles. Ringo H.W. Chiu AP


Kamala Harris announced blockbuster endorsements from California U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer on Thursday, solidifying her support from across the Democratic Party establishment and dealing a major setback to underdog rival Loretta Sanchez.

Harris, the state attorney general, and Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman, are running for the state’s first open Senate seat in 24 years. Both have consistently held up the Democratic leaders as role models throughout the campaign.

Harris, leading in polls and fundraising, counts among her endorsers President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer and most statewide officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown. But Feinstein and Boxer, elected in the historic 1992 “Year of the Woman,” offer something none of the others do: Validation from the people who have done the job she’s seeking.

The endorsements, made in a joint statement, come after Feinstein and Boxer indicated they could stay out of the contest for the departing Boxer’s seat.

In her statement, Boxer said she counts both Harris and Sanchez as friends and supporters and therefore had chosen to stay neutral. “However,” Boxer explained, “I also said that if differences developed that indicate that one candidate emerges as the progressive choice that I would endorse the individual. That day has come.

“California deserves a continuation of clear progressive leadership in the U.S. Senate,” she said. “For almost 50 years, the seat that I hold has been a leadership seat on human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, fair trade, a clean environment and a voice for all families –no matter their circumstances.
Kamala Harris shares those values with me. Her broad array of endorsements underscores this.”

In endorsing Harris, Feinstein pointed to her work on criminal justice reform as district attorney of San Francisco, and her statewide efforts to win relief for homeowners wronged during the mortgage crisis.

Feinstein also cited Harris’ efforts to bolster gun laws and prosecute polluters.

“In this U.S. Senate campaign, Kamala has been a consistent voice of unity and optimism at a time when too many political leaders have tried to divide our communities along racial and religious lines,” Feinstein said. “I wholeheartedly endorse Kamala's campaign and look forward to having a strong partner in Kamala Harris serving alongside me in the U.S. Senate.”

Unlike Boxer, the state’s senior senator did not provide an explanation for her change in course. In February, Feinstein, whose longtime strategist, Bill Carrick, is helping guide Sanchez’s campaign, told reporters in Sacramento that she didn’t expect to take sides.

“I think they are both good candidates,” Feinstein said at the time.