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For some California Democrats, early endorsements deliver boost in House races

For some California Democrats, early endorsements deliver boost in House races
Democrat Bryan Caforio, left, speaks in a debate against incumbent Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in 2016. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The winnowing process began this weekend for the dozens of California Democrats vying to take control of Republican-held House seats in the midterm elections.

The rank-and-file delegates who make up the state's Democratic Party met last weekend in small groups all over the state to cast early votes for their favorite candidates in House races.

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These so-called "pre-endorsement conferences" are the first steps in the process to win the party's endorsement ahead of June's primary.

The results give an early glimpse of where the competitive House races stand — who is consolidating strength among the party's grass roots and which races remain wide open contests.

In many of these crowded races the imprimatur of the Democratic Party can give the endorsed candidates a meaningful way to stand out. The party's endorsement does not necessarily mean a candidate is a shoo-in to make it out of the primary — more on that later.

Here are the three possible outcomes from the votes

  • A candidate needs the vote of at least 70% of his or her district delegates for their endorsement to be placed on the party's consent calendar at the state party convention in San Diego this month — all but guaranteeing an endorsement from the party.
  • If a candidate doesn't reach the 70% threshold but gets at least 50% of the vote, the decision is made at another conference at the convention this month.
  • If no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, the party will not make any endorsement in that district.

The early winners

Here are the four Democrats — all men — who got at least 70% of the vote at the pre-endorsement meetings. That means their candidacies will appear on the convention consent calendar, unless there is a petition effort challenging them at the convention.

  • Emilio Huerta — challenging Rep. David Valadao in the 21st Congressional District. Huerta was the only person in the race.
  • Andrew Janz — challenging Rep. Devin Nunes in the 22nd Congressional District. He beat out two others.
  • Bryan Caforio — challenging Rep. Steve Knight in the 25th Congressional District. One other candidate received votes.
  • Ammar Campa-Najjar — challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District. One other person ran

Crowded races where the fight continues

There will be another round of voting for the candidates in these races. The favorites are:

  • Jessica Morse got 55% in the 4th District vote, running against two other candidates. She is challenging Rep. Tom McClintock.
  • Marge Doyle got 60% in the 8th District vote, running against two other candidates. She is challenging Rep. Paul Cook.
  • Hans Keirstead got 65% in the 48th District vote, running against five other candidates. He is challenging Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
  • Mike Levin got 57% against four other candidates in the 49th District, an open-seat race in the district represented by Rep. Darrell Issa.
  • Dave Min got 66% against three other candidates in the 45th District. He is challenging Rep. Mimi Walters.
Congressional candidates Sam Jammal, Andy Thorburn, Mai-Khanh Tran, Gil Cisneros, Jay Chen and Phil Janowicz speak during a forum at Fullerton College on Jan. 10. The candidates are vying for the seat of outgoing U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).
Congressional candidates Sam Jammal, Andy Thorburn, Mai-Khanh Tran, Gil Cisneros, Jay Chen and Phil Janowicz speak during a forum at Fullerton College on Jan. 10. The candidates are vying for the seat of outgoing U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

No dice

The races for these seats are arguably too crowded with no clear front-runner.

  • Five candidates split the vote in 10th District so no candidate will have the benefit of a party endorsement when facing Rep. Jeff Denham.
  • Seven candidates split the vote in the 39th District race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce.

What does the party endorsement really mean?

The party's endorsement is certainly a help, but it isn't a guaranteed ticket to success at the ballot box — after all, the grass-roots activists voting at these small party juntas are different than the people who actually decide to cast a ballot on primary day in June.

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Caforio failed to capture the party's endorsement when he ran for Knight's seat in 2016 but still managed to beat the endorsed Democrat in the primary.

That fact is not lost on Katie Hill.

Though she had a poor showing at the endorsement conference, she has the makings of a strong candidate. Hill is matching Caforio's fundraising levels, has secured endorsements from Emily's List as well as Southern California female politicians Rep. Judy Chu and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. She also has longer ties to the district than Caforio — who faced criticism for moving into the area to run in 2016.

But Caforio has consolidated support in the district since his loss and boasts the endorsements of numerous elected officials who endorsed his 2016 Democratic primary opponent.

"Going into it there was no doubt that we were underdogs because our opponent had an additional cycle to cultivate relationships in the party," Hill said in a statement. "We look forward to taking this to the voters of the district in June."

Some candidates don't even try for the endorsement.

State Sen. Isadore Hall won 100% of his district's delegate vote in 2016 when he was running for an open South Los Angeles congressional seat, and his candidacy came along with wide establishment support.

But he was defeated in the general election vote by fellow Democrat Nanette Barragan — whose campaign skipped the early endorsement conference altogether, criticizing it as too backroom.

"I am not sure whether I should congratulate the senator for amassing a large number of votes from paid staffers and appointees of other Sacramento politicians or go back to watching YouTube clips of cats doing cute things," Barragan's campaign manager in 2016, Michael Trujillo, said shortly after the pre-endorsement vote.

For 2018's hopefuls, the real test comes June 5.

Twitter: jpanzar

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UPDATES:

4:59 p.m.: This article was updated with the names of two of the politicians endorsing Hill.

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