Winners and Losers at California Democratic Party Convention

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

If you thought the California Democratic Party’s last convention dominated by a battle for party chair was wild, take that event and put it on steroids. Then you’d have last weekend’s jamboree in San Diego.

The main event was the endorsement process, where party delegates get to vote to back candidates for major offices. The results (which trickled in the early hours of Sunday morning) resulted in some surprises. Here’s my take:

WINNERS

Democratic Women — The #MeToo and #WeSaidEnough dialogue that has been hovering over Sacramento for months moved to San Diego for the weekend. It was on everyone’s mind and in every politician’s (male and female) stump speech. This isn’t going away. And that’s a very good thing. Also surprising was gubernatorial Delaine Eastin’s 20 percent share of the gubernatorial endorsement, far exceeding the single digits she’s received in public polling.

Ricardo Lara — The State Senator vying for the Insurance Commissioner slot was one of the few candidates to walk away with an endorsement in a contested race. And he won big, capturing 68 percent of the vote over Dr. Asif Mahmood, a late comer to the race.  This is one race where the party endorsement could be useful in June since neither is a household name.

John Chiang — As expected, Gavin Newsom led the field in the Governor’s race. The surprise was that he captured only 39% of the votes — and that John Chiang was hot on this tail with 30%. This has to be a boost to Chiang’s campaign, which has been stuck in neutral for the past six months. If he parlays it into a boost in fundraising, he may still have a shot at the #2 spot in June.

The LG’s Race — Who would have thought the LG’s race would be the most exciting? There are strong candidates here, including two former U.S. Ambassadors and a state senator who is well-liked and respected. All are raising good money. Lots of visibility at the convention for the three major contenders. And though none of them walked away with an endorsement, there is intensity in this race that you wouldn’t have guessed existed a few months ago.

Eric Bauman — Party Chairman Eric Bauman and his staff managed to keep the lid on a convention that could have easily exploded at any time on any number of issues. For all the diversions, at the end of the day Bauman kept the convention focus on defeating the GOP, and delegates left energized to do just that.

Ruben Major — Who? I never heard of him either. Yet he got 16% of the endorsement vote against incumbent Secretary of State Alex Padilla. He’s no threat, but that’s a strong performance for someone with nothing in the bank and no name ID.

Democracy — The failure of most candidates to win endorsements from party insiders means it will be up to Democratic voters to decide best reflects their values. Bravo. The party endorsement process is a tremendous waste of money and energy that should be expended appealing to voters and defeating candidates of the other party.

LOSERS

Dave Jones — When is a near-win almost a big loss? In the AG’s race. Insurance commissioner Jones put all his marbles into winning the CDP endorsement he has been coveting for eight years. Ever tenacious, Jones was said to have called every single delegate personally multiple times. He  dumped emails, direct mail and phone banking into this race too. In contrast, AG Xavier Becerra has been in the job for one year and already has outraised Jones 4-1. Jones wanted — and needed — the endorsement badly. He was denied.

Kevin DeLeon — Heres’ another instance of when winning the most votes actually was a loss. KDL was everywhere at the convention, pouring what little he has left in his campaign to try to score an upset win. He came up short with 54% of the vote. True, he denied incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein from a win. But after a week of labor endorsements and playing to a convention hall full of activists that share your views, if KDL couldn’t win here you have to wonder where his cash-strapped campaign will head. It reminds me of 2006, when Rocky Delgadillo blocked Jerry Brown from getting the party endorsement for AG, only to be hammered in the primary.

Dianne Feinstein — No one expected DiFi to win the party endorsement. No one. But her spin machine wasn’t working well; most of Sunday’s headlines used the words “rebuked” and “stunning loss” to describe her performance in the endorsement race. While she accomplished what she needed to do from blocking an opponent from winning the party’s backing (and that’s a huge win btw), she lost the message war. Reporters desperately want to make this a race to write about, and now they have some fodder.

Moderates — Speaking of moderates, no candidate that didn’t embrace the word “progressive” proved they didn’t have a shot of winning any backing at the convention. Supt. of Public Instruction candidate Marshall Tuck got roundly booed and gubernatorial hopeful Antonio Villaraigosa snared just 9 percent of the delegate votes in the endorsement tally. No surprise. The party’s activists continue to move left while the voters haven’t.

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