In a hall festooned with his opponent's posters, Assemblyman Richard Robinson, a congressional candidate, told 150 Democrats that he did not want their endorsement Friday night.
"I don't believe we can afford to lose any Democrats. I don't want to split (Democratic opponent) David O. Carter's friends with my friends," pleaded Robinson, a Garden Grove Democrat. "The best way to go is with no endorsement."
Robinson's comments came as he and Carter, a Superior Court judge, met at a Costa Mesa community center for their first debate in the 38th Congressional District race. The two Democrats--one an experienced legislator, the other a judge seeking partisan office for the first time--are vying to unseat conservative Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
They spoke before the Democratic Associates, a group of young Democrats who were holding a straw poll on the race just a half hour before county Democrats opened their biannual convention.
Though the Associates finished their vote on Friday, their ballots--either for Robinson, for Carter or for "no endorsement"--will not be counted until Sunday morning, after the convention is over. County Democrats did not want the Associates' preferences to appear to be the convention's choices, said Democratic Associates president Christopher Townsend.
In contrast to Robinson's plea for no endorsement, Carter asked the Associates for support.
"If you endorse me, give me your heart, your hand, your feet," the judge said as he held up one of his shoes, its sole worn thin from precinct walking. As the crowd applauded, Carter asked for a vote "for new leadership."
From the posters in the hall to the applause, the meeting seemed pro-Carter from the start. Two tables displayed "Carter for Congress" bumper stickers and T-shirts. Many Associates sported buttons saying the same thing. And when Carter spoke, he was frequently interrupted by applause.
By contrast, Robinson had no tables, posters or lapel pins. Although he received applause for his speech, it came only at the end.
Still, his "no endorsement" position received a second from one other speaker Friday night, lawyer and Associates board member James Toledano. "I'd like to say hold your results until June so it doesn't affect the way we look at each other," he said. "We have to work with each other after the primary. . . . We don't want to use the Democratic name behind the person who is not the nominee of the party."
Many Democrats fear that this primary contest will split the party between the young activists who seem to be supporting Carter and more traditional Democrats, the labor chiefs and older Democrats who are supporting Robinson.
Earlier last week, Robinson asked another party group, the Democratic Foundation, not to endorse him because the primary is being contested.
In 10-minute speeches Friday, Carter and Robinson summed up their careers. Robinson described himself as a legislator who can "bring back the bacon" in terms of legislation for his district. He cited bills that doubled the size of the Orange County Superior Court and that created an Orange County Transportation Commission.
Carter said he is concerned about day-care centers and the problems of freeways.
Several Associates members said their reactions to the debate were mixed. They were Carter supporters, they said, but they were impressed with the "no endorsement" plea and so would probably withhold one.