Californians’ feelings are still mixed

Times Staff Writer

California’s Democratic delegates will descend on the national convention in Denver intent on throwing their support to unofficial nominee Barack Obama, either out of genuine enthusiasm or for a more practical reason: Hillary Rodham Clinton told them to.

Clinton won the California primary in February, and as a result still controls the state’s delegation; she is currently leading 232-203, with six delegates uncommitted. When her name is placed into nomination, many of the delegates probably will cast their votes for her, then fall in line behind Obama after the first ballot.

Clay Doherty, a San Francisco public relations consultant, said he was taking his cues from Clinton. She endorsed Obama days after she conceded the primary race in early June and has campaigned for him since, most recently in Florida last week.

“I’m a Hillary delegate. Even so, I’m a Democrat first,” said Doherty, 36, who was in Denver on Friday. “I will do exactly what my candidate tells me to do.”


Mixed emotions in the delegation are no surprise. Clinton and her husband began courting California long before Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, and the couple’s connection to the state only grew during his eight years in office. His wife’s victory in the state primary was a payoff of that long relationship, particularly among female and Latino voters.

Still, polls taken since the primary show that Democrats -- including most of those who backed Clinton -- now enthusiastically support Obama. Although unofficial Republican nominee John McCain has pledged to contest the state, few believe he will be able to substantially erode Obama’s current double-digit lead.

So California is likely to be in a familiar position in Denver: necessary for its money and activist base, but not much else.

The precise makeup of the delegation has been subject to last-minute complications: With the state budget two months past due, some state legislators who are delegates have been curtailing travel plans and giving away tickets to mixers and other events.


Overall, California will be represented by 441 delegates, chosen for their candidate support and their diversity. Nearly 26% are Latino, 17% are African American, 8.6% are Asian/ Pacific Islander, 2.7% are Native American and 7.7% have a disability. Additionally, 11% are younger than 30, and about that proportion are gay, lesbian or transgender.

Delegates include party activists and high rollers such as Los Angeles entrepreneur Sim Farar, who was key to Hillary Clinton’s fundraising and is one of 29 Democratic National Committee members, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and daughter Christine.

Delegate Rosalind Wyman, 77, is the grande dame of California Democratic politics. She made history when, at 22, she became the first woman elected to the Los Angeles City Council; she also helped bring the Dodgers to L.A. 50 years ago. Since 1952, she has gone to every Democratic convention but one -- “I don’t know how many; you can count.”

Wyman, who has long worked to elect Democratic women, said of Clinton: “Her election was really important to me. I could feel it from my toes to my head. But now I am supporting Obama, and I’m going to whatever I can do.”


She sees no room for debate: “There is no way the Democrats are not going to come home” to the nominee. “If we lose this election, we ought to quit, just quit.”

Nonetheless, some remain skeptical of Obama.

Sacramento delegate Steve Maviglio, who works for Assembly Democrats, doesn’t count himself among Obama’s many “true believers.”

“Whether he pulls us over remains to be seen,” Maviglio said. “I’m going to vote and work for him, but I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.”


David Serrano Sewell, a deputy San Francisco city attorney and Clinton delegate, was “not completely won over” by Obama either.

“My concern is that he has a compelling message of hope and change, but that hasn’t converted to numbers and votes,” he said. “He is struggling in national polls. I don’t think I’m the only Democrat who feels this way.”

Sewell said of newly announced Obama running mate Joseph R. Biden Jr., the senator from Delaware: “He is a good person, a good Democrat. I know he has the reputation for sticking his foot in his mouth, but I like the fact that he is kind of a straight shooter.”

Will Biden excite the delegates? “Not to the degree that Hillary would have,” Sewell said.


Karen Skelton, a Sacramento attorney and consultant, likened holdouts hesitant to embrace Obama to Democrats who voted for third-party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000 instead of Al Gore -- and thus helped George W. Bush win.

“They have to get out of themselves and understand that the presidential election is about the course of history,” said Skelton, a Clinton delegate who worked in the Clinton White House and for Gore. “I respect Hillary Clinton’s candidacy enormously. I believe strongly in her.

“She released us.”

Of course, many delegates have long fought for Obama’s nomination. San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala D. Harris took time off from work to travel to Iowa in the winter for him, and now she is spending summer vacation in Denver as one of his delegates. She intends to do “whatever is needed” to help him win in November.


“Anything divided is weaker than when it is united,” Harris said. “It is going to be a close election. Democrats should be on the right side of history of this one. That means doing everything we can do. Nobody can afford to sit at home.”