Kamala Harris simply crushed U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez at the California Democratic Party state convention over the weekend: the state Attorney General had a bigger, fancier, livelier reception for delegates; more energized and organized volunteers; an infinitely more polished and compelling speech to the general assembly, and a landslide 78% vote for the CDP’s endorsement for the U.S. Senate.
Other than that, it was a lovely weekend in San Jose for Loretta.
A Tale of Two Speeches
In her speech to 3,200 attendees, Harris looked and sounded like a U.S. Senator, calling the GOP presidential campaign “a race to the bottom, a race to anger, a race to blame, a race to fan the flames of nativism in our country.”
She said Republican Donald Trump’s cry to “Make America Great Again,” begs the question: “for who?” The Republicans, she said forcefully, want to reverse gains in civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality, humane immigration policies, labor rights and environmental protections.
“They promise to go back to a time when even a victim of sexual assault did not have the right to choose. But the stakes are too high in this election. We are not going back to that back alley,” Harris said to rousing applause.
Her best line (h/t strategist Sean Clegg): “We the people understand our unity is our strength and our diversity is our power.” (Memo I to Hillary Clinton – see, it’s about “us,” not about you.)
And to her credit, Harris ditched the fancy entourage in favor of walking around shaking hands with delegates usually accompanied only by press secretary Nathan Click (Calbuzz gets results!)
Sanchez, for her part, told the compelling story of her own gritty upbringing and touted her credentials, as pro-labor, pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-gay rights and more. “I connect with working people and Latinos because that’s who I am,” she said, noting that she was one of the first Head Start kids in U.S.
She called immigration reform “the next great moral imperative of our generation” and advocated a “path to legal status” (not “citizenship”).
Sanchez was well received – although the hall lacked the cheering, stomping, sign-waving troops Harris deployed — but her delivery was unskillful, at times even clumsy, and there was way too much “me” and not enough “we.” Worst of all for Sanchez, when the endorsement vote was tallied, she got just 19% of the 2,139 ballots cast. Ouch.
Which makes Harris the official candidate of the Democratic Party. Almost certainly, in a top-two primary in June, Sanchez’s challenge will be to come in second, ahead of thinking man’s Republican Duf Sundheim who – if his game plan works out – will by then have virtually buried former state GOP chairman and snake handler Tom Del Beccaro. The wily Sundheim even managed to steal a little press over the weekend by showing up in San Jose to generate a couple “in the belly of the beast” type stories.
Calbuzz had more than an inkling that Harris was about to crush Sanchez among the delegates on Friday night, when we ran into Dolores Huerta, the graceful, diminutive giant of the United Farmworkers, outside of the convention hall. We asked who she was backing for Senate and without a second’s hesitation, answered, “Kamala,” dismissing any question that suggested identity politics would determine her vote.
There was never any question that 74-year-old Mike Honda, the embattled eight-term congressman from Silicon Valley, would win the endorsement of the CDP: Incumbents must only win 50%+1 while challengers have to get 60%. It’s rigged for incumbents, who usually control who the delegates are to the state party convention.
But Rho Khanna, the 39-year-old former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama, who took 49% against Honda in the 2014 general election, is running an even tougher and more effective campaign against him in 2016.
Honda is under a House ethics investigation for giving favors to donors, and President Obama has yanked his previous endorsement of the longtime incumbent, while a slew of local elected officials have gone over to Khanna. Still, Honda had the party endorsement in the bag.
Which made it all the more bewildering why anyone – and it had to be a Honda supporter if not, as the congressman insisted it was not, someone from his campaign — would distribute a no-finesse hit piece at the CD17 convention voting site accusing Khanna of being a Republican puppet whose “backers” also funded a slew of unpopular Republican candidates and causes.
With no identification of the sponsor of the flyer except for a union bug and a recycle symbol. “For a person being investigated on ethics charges to have his campaign passing out something without ‘paid for’ on it is shocking,” Khanna said, noting that would be another ethics violation.
Said Honda, who was actually awake for the proceedings : “It’s easy to say things without proof.”
It also didn’t help that Honda worked so hard to avoid reporters, including an embarrassing scene when he waved his arm in the face of Politico’s Carla Marinucci and ran away, a scene Costco Carla captured on her iPhone and promptly tweeted.
So Honda easily won the endorsement but lost the moral high ground. Again.
With almost every politician except Jerry Brown himself already angling to replace Gov. Gandalf two years hence, there was plenty of early maneuvering, some subtle, some not so much, among the platoon of gubernatorial wannabes. Here is how they fared, best to worst:
1-Gavin Newsom — Hair Boy gained the most by staying away. His wife, Jen, had baby #4 on late Friday — hello Dutch! — so in Saturday’s speaking rotation, the lite gov substituted a saccharine video of the parents looking gaga shortly before the birth, actually a big improvement over seeing him in person.
2-Tom Steyer — The Silicon Valley billionaire and heavyweight environmental crusader was everywhere. He’s still playing coy about his elective ambitions but his genuine commitment to the party and high-volume advocacy on some of its most important issues could go a long way in helping him break the curse of rich guys trying and failing to buy the governorship.
3-Antonio Villaraigosa — Tony V., former Assembly Speaker and L.A. Mayor, showed up Friday and made a strong appearance at the Latino Caucus that showed he still has some campaign chops, before lurking around the back of the Labor Caucus (where he’s in disfavor because of his embrace of charter schools and dis of the CTA) before beating feet out of Dodge in advance of Saturday’s festivities. No runs, no hits, no errors.
4-Eric Garcetti – The L.A. Mayor won political points for strong arming his way onto the Saturday speech lineup, after earlier being relegated to the Sunday morning hangover slot. Unfortunately he forgot to change the time reference in his boast about his town hosting the Oscars, and thus read from the teleprompter that they were “tonight” instead of “tomorrow night,” leading to much snickering and tweeting. Staff work, people, staff work.
5-John Chiang — After walking onstage to the Main Theme from Star Wars — Seriously?!? — Mr. Treasurer promptly turned into the world’s leading cure for insomnia by presenting a dry-as-dust lecture on state finances that would have perfect for a weekend conference in San Antonio on Changing the Tax-Exempt Status of Municipal Bond Interest.
6-Steve Westly – The other Silicon Valley Master of the Universe eyeing 2016 kept a low profile, still smarting from the scandal over his emailed recommendation to a woman-beating business associate that the scumbag hire Willie Brown, the widely-know San Francisco Chronicle News Page Columnist, to help him beat the rap. We didn’t see Westly, and claim absolutely no knowledge of such matters, but a well-placed, high-powered source in attendance swore Steverino recently has had Some Work: “I’m from L.A. and, believe me, I know a face peel when I see one.”
Joe Biden, who was the Senate Judiciary Committee hero who borked Robert Bork, spoke for 55 never-ending minutes and never once mentioned the Republicans’ obstruction of President Obama’s up-and-coming, dead-on-arrival nomination to the Supreme Court. Go figure.
Biden’s talk included virtually every personal anecdote he has ever told on the campaign trail, a one-man human highlights reel that somehow reminded us of Wayne Newton playing “Spanish Eyes” on the guitar. Plus the cliches: Possibilities define America, compromise is not a dirty word, our politics traffics in division, 80% of what we do is question motive not judgment, we need consensus, our people aren’t the problem — our politics is the problem, zzzz… And that was before he got so deep into the weeds on the economy that he sucked all of the air out of the cavernous convention hall.
We were, however, delighted that Biden credited Bobby Kennedy with the quote , ”Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” Last time he spoke to the CDP he quoted RFK without attribution, adding to his problem of having borrowed British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock’s life story as his own.
It was, however, more than a little annoying that he kept directing his remarks to Minority Leader U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi — “Nancy, you remember,” and “You know, Nancy,” — as if looking for confirmation for the most routine and mundane remembrances. Get a room, you two.
Biden’s presence required the set-up of full-bore White House-level security operations, but the coordination between the Secret Service, TSA, local law enforcement and state party staff left juuust a bit to be desired.
Saturday morning’s session opened with the hall only about one-third full, as many delegates, reporters and various hangers-on waited in four lines that each stretched many hundreds of people, and well over an hour, long.
The operation lacked what you might call your common sense: for example, it was impossible to leave the hall in order to attend any of the countless and, presumably, important caucuses taking place a floor below, without leaving the secure area and then being forced to return to the security lines.
Things were so bad that Burton from the podium basically recommended people skip the party’s official, ticket-in-advance lunch and “just grab a sandwich” in order to avoid TSA purgatory. Sadly, there was no place to “just grab a sandwich” inside the secure area — except the press room, where the grub delivered for Actual Reporters was swiftly consumed by a bunch of hungry delegates who descended like locusts, without the bother of anyone from the state party checking to see if they had, you know, a press credential. But we don’t complain.
Perhaps the security perimeter might have been established at, say, the entrance to the hall? Just a thought.
The weekend’s two most in-demand giveaways were the free boxes of “tax-free tampons” handed out at the Women’s Caucus, in support of legislation by Assembly Members Cristina Garcia and Ling Ling Chang to exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax, and Mardi Gras-style marijuana leaf necklaces from the Brownie Mary Democratic Club (named after the late cannabis activist Mary Jane Rathbun).
Alas, Brownie Mary’s Saturday night bash was a bummer, featuring a dreadful clip of a musical comedy about legalization, produced by some (surprise, surprise) independent producer, which perhaps made sense to the several dozen members of the gray ponytail stoner brigade on hand, and some plain old brownies that definitely were not Brownie Mary grade.
Kamala’s big party creamed the competition in the free food category, with a two-level spread at the Tech Museum that featured multiple open bars, dim sum and dessert tables with oodles of goodies, including Little Cupcakes in half-a-dozen varieties.
Calbuzz found two events especially enlightening.
A seminar on the politics and voting of millennials – a fluid term meaning voters generally younger than 35 but sometimes focusing on voters in the 18-25 bracket – demonstrated that political campaigns seldom realize that to make contact with these voters you have to go where they are – in classrooms, places of leisure and even job sites.
Messaging has to be brief and simple, campaigners have to establish rapport and avoid being patronizing. They’ll engage, the experts said, more likely on presidential issues, but occasionally on local and state matters, if you make a compelling case.
They care about 1) jobs, economy and wages 2) education and college debt 3) foreign policy and 4) gun safety. (Note to Tom Steyer – climate change and the environment is NOT a top-of-the-mind issue for these folks yet – not by a long shot.)
More than six in 10 millennials get their news from search engines, which means they’re looking things up themselves after hearing or seeing something in traditional news outlets, online sources and social media. They’re not necessarily disengaged – but they’re disillusioned with the idea that going to the polls will change anything.
H/t Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc; Shwetika Baijal of 50+1 Strategies and Alex Evans of EMC Research.
(Memo II to Hillary: Bernie’s got a message millennials understand; you don’t have one at all. See http://www.calbuzz.com/2016/02/strategic-memo-to-hillary-call-for-real-progress/).
And over flash-fried calamari at McCormick and Schmick’s, across the street from the convention center, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra — on a pathway to become House minority leader in the House after the clutch of septuagenarians expire or retire — sat down with a gaggle of reporters and explained why no Republican running for president will get close to 40% of the vote from Latinos – the target for success set by most political demographers.
“Immigration is a personal issue for Latinos,” he said. “You know who they’re talking about.”
He never saw a sign outside of a restaurant that said “No dogs or Mexicans allowed.” But his father told him about them.
Said the Stanford Law congressman: “It hurts to be told that I’m still part of the ‘them.’”
Will the race for president between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders be decided before California Democrats get a chance to weigh in and deliver delegates in June, we asked CDP chairman John Burton.
“I don’t fucking know,” he told us in the nicest possible way. As for the power of Bernie’s message: “If you’re not mad at what’s going on in this country, you’ve got your head up your ass,”
Burton’s lookin’ better after a spate of health problems and we were glad to see he hadn’t lost anything off the fast ball.
The Calbuzz Primary
Some of the
most ADD-afflicated finest minds in the news business and a couple of the smartest political consultants we know gathered for dinner Saturday night at Il Fornaio and after ample lubrication voted by secret ballot on five key predictions (regardless of partisan sympathies):
Next U.S. Senator from California – unanimous 12-0 vote for Kamala Harris
Next California Governor – Newsom with 5, Villaraigosa 3, and one each for Steyer, Garcetti, Kevin Faulconer and Ashley Swearingen.
Democratic Presidential Nominee – 11 for Clinton, with one for Joe Biden
Republican Presidential Nominee – Nine for Donald Trump, two for Marco Rubio and one for Mitt Romney.
Next President of the United States of America – Hillary Clinton with 7, two for Trump, one each for Rubio and Michael Bloomberg.
For those into statistics, this poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5,280.