On Saturday night, as hundreds of California Democrats and reporters in various stages of drunkenness packed the Anaheim Hilton’s atrium lobby bar, the shrill cry of war whoops –“woowoowoo!” – occasionally pierced the roar of collective conversation.
Inevitably followed by cackles of laughter, the sound was often triggered by the viewing of a brief and murky iPhone video of congress member and insurgent U.S. Senate wannabe Loretta Sanchez, skillfully offending a caucus of ethnic Democrats with the worst party ice breaker in the history of the world.
Sanchez’s inexplicable Chief Wahoo moment, however, was only one of several outré episodes by the Dems’ current and potential Senate contenders, perhaps influenced by the close proximity of the state party convention hotel to the non-stop amusements of Disneyland Park.
By the time the 3,000 delegates left town Sunday – after Sanchez portrayed Pocahontas, Kamala Harris channeled Cersei Lannister and Xavier Becerra performed the Dance of the Seven Veils throughout the convention center – it was clear that the 2016 Senate race holds considerable promise as blockbuster political entertainment.
Here are some highlights:
Not exactly a classic campaign start: Bill Carrick, Loretta’s newly-minted chief consultant, returned home from a late afternoon run in L.A. on Saturday to find a stack of more than three dozen messages concerning his client’s big surprise OMG You Tube blunder in Orange County.
A brief summary, for those who may have been on a self-imposed social media moratorium: Sanchez on Saturday appeared before a group of Southeast Asian Indians, with whom she tried to ingratiate herself by doing a little war whoop, in the style familiar to pre-schoolers everywhere, by way of acting out a stupid story of having mistakenly believed an Indian she was to meet with was actually a Native American. Ha, ha.
By 9 am on Sunday, an hour before Sanchez was to address the convention, Carrick had arrived on the scene, striding into the convention hall uttering a characteristically laconic patter of drawling spin – “once again the California press corps has exercised its news judgment based on the first person they can find with a cell phone video” – before escorting Sanchez behind the speaker’s curtain in the reassuring manner of a South Carolina country doctor making an emergency house call.
Shortly after, Sanchez recited a brief apology, 10 minutes into her 18-minute speech – “So, in the crazy, exciting rush of meetings yesterday, I said something offensive, and for that I sincerely apologize.” (Calbuzz apology critique: the impact is diluted by 1) the suggestion that she be excused because she was running around like a madwoman all day; 2) a follow-up, self-regarding defense of her record on equal rights – “UNASSAILABLE,” as she described it, with the word in all caps on her teleprompter copy; 3) a bridge-too-far line that she is “proudly part Native American on my mother’s side.” Grade: C-. But we digress).
A few minutes later, she showed up in the press room to answer a couple of questions from the few reporters still on hand, but stubbornly refused to respond to further inquiries on the tempest in the iPhone matter. So there the matter lies for now.
War Whoopgate was the second screw-up in less than five days for Sanchez, and her rocky start under the singular pressures of a California statewide campaign does not bode well. Part of the problem is that she begins well behind chief rival Harris, in money and organization, and is trying to rev from zero to 100 in days, not months, as Carrick tries to staff up while serving as a one-man band.
The broader, and far more serious issue, however, is Sanchez herself; her balls-out energy and loose cannon style represent both a strength and a weakness as a candidate. As we wrote when she announced, her “antics are one thing for an entrenched House member but another for a statewide candidate, and if her past behavior proves a prologue for the Senate race, it will be trouble.”
Bottom line: Regardless of how many party activists she may have charmed with her manic pace of appearances over the weekend, it’s hard to imagine many potential donors being assured by her performance of the past few days.
Make way, make way, peasants: At first glance, Attorney General Harris had a hugely successful convention weekend: she nicely delivered a well-crafted, red-meat speech on wealth inequality and social justice to an enthusiastic response from the volunteer class; the headline speaker, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, gave Kamala big props in her own speech, for allegedly helping to protect mortgage foreclosure victims as AG; the L.A. TV footage of a stunned Harris reacting to word of Wahoo Sanchez is priceless and sympathetic.
But just below the surface – meh.
For starters, Queen Kamala strutted around the convention escorted by a Hillary-size hoard of hangers-on, bodyguards, retainers and gofers. The symbolism of such self-importance stood in stark contrast to Sanchez and Rep. Becerra, who hung out and spoke with delegates, as well as reporters, in small groups or one-on-one, without the need for handlers shouting “Huzzah, huzzah, make way, make way,” as they strolled the hallways and lobbies.
At one point, Harris and a half-dozen of her posse entered a packed meeting room where the Latino caucus heard from candidates. One veteran insider rolled his eyes at the sight of Harris surrounded by guys with wires in their ears and talking up their sleeves: “Is she that afraid of us?” he whispered to a reporter, who tried but failed to suppress a laugh. At another point, her elbow-wielding entourage nearly toppled a decrepit Calbuzzard, a story for another day.
Harris also dodged having her own You Tube 15 seconds of fame. As she stood outside the hall to address her “Cookies with Kamala” reception, some protestors, most displeased with her handling of the very foreclosure case for which Warren had sung her praises an hour before, started chanting, and the AG soon beat a retreat. No cell phone video yet, but hey it’s early.
And while it may not much concern anyone outside of Calbuzz and our cohort, the reporters who actually cover this stuff are not overly enamored of her media operation. Harris has ducked serious interviews and sessions with reporters since announcing her candidacy in January, and her Saturday press conference was a joke.
Team Harris packed the press room with boosters and people lining up for selfies; then they turned the proceedings over to a 12-year old twit named Nathan Click, whose amateur-night arrogance reminds us of several other press shop sycophants we’ve recently encountered. Pencil Neck then proceeded to call on a series of drop-ins and journalistic tourists, who, no doubt coincidentally, lobbed up such softballs as whether Herself plans to run for president (no, she informed a doubtlessly disappointed republic). Also, this just in: The Empress of River City is distressed to learn that traffic on the 405 is bad.
The Mr. X factor: The biggest winner in the weekend Senate sweepstakes seemed to be a guy who hasn’t decided if he’s running or not: L.A. Rep. Xavier Becerra.
Thanks to an MSM colleague, the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk joined three other political writers for an hour long, Friday night sit-down with Becerra at Mix. We’d not met the guy before, and came away impressed by his intelligence, thoughtfulness and easy manner. Decisiveness? Not so much.
Becerra has been doing an annoying, full-on Hamlet act about running for Senate ever since Barbara Boxer announced in January she was calling it quits; now he says he probably won’t make up his mind until late summer. Oy.
Okay, so it’s not an easy choice. Becerra was first elected in 1992 and now is Democratic Caucus Chair, the party’s number four leader in the House; the three members ahead of him – Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn Jr. are age 75, 75, and 74, respectively, so actuarial odds alone make him a good bet to move up the ladder before the sun sets on many more congressional sessions.
But the best case in that scenario is that he ends up as Minority Leader, given that the Democrats have zero chance of winning back the House until after the next reapportionment and probably not much more than that after. But being a U.S. Senator from California, particularly if the Dems take back the Senate in two years, now that’s a job for a political passionista.
Problem for him is, while Xavier dithers, front-runner Kamala keeps running ’round and ’round the fundraising track, putting him further and further behind; now, Loretta’s entry has complicated the whole matter of him campaigning as a pioneer Latino candidate.
He’s too smart, and too much the party loyalist, to say it, but it must gall Becerra that Harris stands on the brink of coronation for Senate without having paid the kinds of dues he has. On Friday, he went so far as to prod the reporters at the table to get tougher with Queen Bee in sussing out her weaknesses on federal issues.
“What would she do? What are her values on these issues?” Becerra asked.
“Do you want to know how she would vote on an Iran nuclear deal? Do you want to know where she’ll stand on how we deal with transportation infrastructure funding? Do you want to know where she stands on intelligence surveillance?”
“… If you don’t know that, then that means the voters probably don’t know that, either,” he added. “If you’re in the race – tell people where you are.”
Here’s another, slightly different construction: If you’re in the race, tell people you are.