Thousands of California Democrats will gather Friday in San Diego for their annual convention, where potential presidential contenders will make appearances and state candidates will battle for endorsements from the party faithful in advance of the June primary.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Jeff Merkley of Oregon are among the top Democrats attending the convention whose names have been floated as possible candidates for president in 2020.
One notable California Democrat who repeatedly ran for president is not scheduled to appear: Gov. Jerry Brown, in his final year leading the state. He has previously faced protests and heckling from critics who did not agree with his stance on fracking.
During the three-day gathering, the party plans to show a tribute video for Brown before four of the candidates vying to replace him — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin — speak. Amanda Renteria, an aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, entered the race last week, too late to secure a speaking slot or a place on the endorsement ballot.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her opponent, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), will also address the gathering.
These candidates, as well as those seeking down-ballot seats, will need to get votes from 60% of the delegates to secure the party’s endorsement. In addition to the gubernatorial and Senate races, the candidates running for attorney general have been especially aggressive in courting delegates in the lead-up to the convention.
The state party endorsement can come with millions of dollars of support and is a particularly important imprimatur for candidates seeking offices that are less visible than governor or senator. State party Chairman Eric Bauman asked statewide candidates to not seek the party endorsement to avoid infighting. No one listened; the candidates and their campaigns have been furiously courting delegates.
“One delegate said in the last 30 days he had received 245 text messages, nine missed calls, 1,052 voicemails and countless emails,” Bauman said.
The candidates will address delegates from the main stage Saturday, visit caucuses all weekend and host celebrations and hospitality suites as they seek the party’s nod.
Alcohol-fueled parties are a mainstay of party conventions, but things could change this year.
Newsom, whose past convention parties have closed off streets and featured celebrities such as rapper Common, will instead greet delegates Saturday afternoon and stop by parties Friday night hosted by the California Teachers Assn. and the California Faculty Assn.
Chiang and Feinstein are headlining breakfasts for their supporters. Eastin is among a few candidates speaking to self-described “Berniecrats” on Saturday night at Jolt’n Joe’s in the Gaslamp Quarter.
The convention takes place against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. In Democratic Party circles, questions have been raised about the freewheeling behavior at state party conventions. The party’s convention planners responded by organizing a 24-hour hotline for attendees to report assault or threatening behavior, and there will be a larger security presence.
The California Democratic Party remains in a contentious debate about its future. It has long held control of every statewide office in California, but has seen a growing divide between its liberal and establishment wings. The tension flared during the race for chairperson last year between Bauman and Democratic organizer Kimberly Ellis.
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