Democratic Party faces restive CA activists

Sacramento_CapitolDisgruntled Democratic activists in California have begun to buck the national party in key races this election year.

After a string of failures in several central valley campaigns, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has come in for scorn by increasingly independent party members seeking to take their fortunes into their own hands.

In one stinging example, Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, “trounced Democrats for two cycles in the 21st Congressional District despite the party’s 16 percentage point edge over Republicans among registered voters,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “Prominent locals told the Fresno Bee in December that part of the blame fell on the DCCC for micromanaging failed 2014 candidate Amanda Renteria’s campaign.”

Looking for an edge

But more established candidates have worked to push back against the insurgents. Some California Democrats facing primary competition have sought — and landed — so-called “pre-endorsements,” a robust signal of party support. “During a pre-endorsement conference meeting in San Bernardino, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, Assembly candidate Sabrina Cervantes and congressional candidate Tim Sheridan all got more than 70 percent of the votes needed to get their endorsements placed on the consent calendar for the state party convention scheduled for Feb. 26 through 28 in San Jose,” the Press-Enterprise reported.

“The Brown/Reyes contest is getting statewide attention because Brown, who is considered part of the Assembly’s moderate Democratic caucus, is being challenged by Reyes, a liberal Democrat.”

In another closely watched intraparty tussle, Lou Vince’s upstart bid to unseat Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, has divided national Democrats from Golden Staters. As the Los Angeles reported, “a member of the Democratic Party in Washington and two members of Congress, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation,” relayed to Vince their desire to see him yield the primary race to Bryan Caforio, an attorney who has proven to be more of a fundraising powerhouse.

Instead, of dropping out, however, Vince proceeded to win pre-endorsement by party activists with more than 80 percent of the vote, “making him the strong favorite to get the California Democratic Party’s backing at its convention next month. Caforio’s campaign will have to file a formal objection if it wants to bring the endorsement to the convention floor,” the Times added.

Primary-season unease has in part been fueled by Democrats’ desire to wrest back their legislative supermajority. But at the same time, tilting away from candidates supported most heavily by the party’s activist base could end up exacerbating frustrations in Sacramento.” With a restored supermajority, Dan Walters noted at the Sacramento Bee, Democrats “could have raised taxes and placed constitutional amendments on the ballot, but their leaders were reluctant to do either. Meanwhile, business interests were busily electing pro-business moderate Democrats, which turned out to be a much more important factor in what happened, or didn’t happen, on legislation, particularly in 2015. The moderate bloc stymied the legislative agendas of liberal groups that business opposed.”

Off script

The dynamic has lent a somewhat surreal quality to the higher-profile struggles playing out in the party. In the San Fernando Valley, Walters noted, former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra is hard at work trying to exact electoral revenge against Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, who defeated him in 2014, while outgoing Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has mounted a challenge in San Diego to state Sen. Marty Block.

For Democrats, campaign finance has added to the topsy-turvy feel of the season. Although the party came out far ahead in final tallies of money raised in 2015, as the Los Angeles Times reported, moderate Democrats brought in more cash from the oil industry than did Republicans, according to the Daily Democrat:

“A band of self-described moderate Assembly Democrats led by former Assemblyman Henry Perea, who recently resigned to work for a pharmaceutical trade association, were instrumental in the oil companies’ victory. According to their campaign finance statements, the companies wrote checks to nearly 30 Assembly Democrats in the second half of 2015.”

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