A gaggle of presidential hopefuls gathered in suddenly-relevant California this weekend for their first big audition. The better-than-bakers’ dozen served as headliners in San Francisco for the California Democratic Party’s state convention. A crowd of 5,000 delegates heard the pitches and policies, and may be the best look yet at what the national party’s base of activists and partisan primary voters are looking for from their presidential standard-bearer next year.
It’s been the best of times and the worst of times lately for California Democrats. The party hasn’t lost a statewide race since 2006, and provided a full sixth of the gains Democrats made to recapture the House last year, the biggest margin of any state, by far. However, the party is also beset by infighting and scandal. The party’s endorsed Senate candidate, Kevin de Leon, lost to Dianne Feinstein by eight points last year. Former party chairman Eric Bauman was forced to resign after a series of sexual harassment claims.
As for the state’s junior Senator, Kamala Harris did not disappoint. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander in chief,” she declared, which brought delegates to their feet. Another Californian, Rep. Eric Swalwell, joked Donald Trump’s reality TV presidency was headed for cancellation. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) drew enthusiastic cheers with a veiled shot at the most high-profile Democratic candidate not in attendance, former Vice President Joe Biden. “Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses,” she said. “But our country is in a time of crisis.
Those seeking a more moderate, or even cautious tone must’ve quickly found out they were at the wrong gathering. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) was met with loud (if not unexpected) boos, declaring that “if we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.” With a point-by-point takedown of the progressive wish list, from universal, government-run healthcare to the Green New Deal, the boos only grew louder. “If we’re not careful,” he warned, “we’re going to end up re-electing the worst president in American history.”
Even San Francisco’s own, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wasn’t spared. The crowd grew restless as she began discussing the Mueller Report and its findings. “We will go where the facts lead us,” she told delegates. “President Trump will be held accountable for his actions, in the Congress, in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.” Her speech was met by cries and calls from the crowd: “Impeach!” She realized her position, and tactics, weren’t popular in her own city. “I told you this was like coming home for me,” Pelosi acknowledged.
California, and other Pacific states, have traditionally been late players in both parties’ primaries. They’ve rarely mattered, with the substance of the race typically already decided. The Golden State’s shift to Super Tuesday reflects its growing importance to the Democratic Party, particularly demographically, but also ideologically. If the party faithful are any indication, a sharp veer to the left may be required to capture their attention, and their votes. This could have the effect of pushing the entire field outside the ideological 40 yard lines, and with it the eventual nominee.