Surprising California House

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 28, 2018 — Yesterday, we reported that the California Democratic Party state convention delegates snubbed veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein by not officially endorsing her for re-election. The US House endorsements, or lack of them in many instances, also featured some unexpected results.

Looking at the 14 Golden State Republican incumbents, seven of whom Democratic leaders have publicly identified as targets for the upcoming election, the state delegates left four of these top conversion opportunities without an endorsed candidate.

california-39th-and-49th-congressional-districtsIn the campaigns against Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto), Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), and in the open districts of the 39th (Rep. Ed Royce retiring) and 49th (Rep. Darrell Issa retiring), the Democratic candidate contingent in each contest will head into the June 5 jungle primary election with no one carrying the official party endorsement.

In the other two top-tier targeted districts, convention delegates officially endorsed Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/ Bakersfield) in the 21st and Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) in the 45th. The activists chose their 2016 nominee, attorney Emilio Huerta, to run against Rep. Valadao; Huerta actually performed poorly against the congressman in 2016, losing 57-43 percent, while Hillary Clinton carried the district 55-40 percent. However, Huerta is the only announced candidate in this race; therefore, he was easily able to exceed the 60 percent threshold needed to claim the state party endorsement.

In the Walters district, the party delegates chose law professor Dave Min as their endorsed candidate. This is a bit of a surprise because fellow law professor and consumer advocate Katie Porter seems to be attracting at least an equivalent level of campaign support. Both have outside endorsements, each has raised over $675,000 (Min: $679,000; Porter: $741,000), and the two each have more than $400,000 in the bank (Min: $411,000; Porter: $510,000). In addition to these two candidates, four other Democrats are also on the ballot. Min, however, is clearly the better inside political player since he was able to convince a super majority of convention delegates to publicly back his campaign.

In Rep. Denham’s district, the no endorsement result must be regarded as a victory for late entry candidate Michael Eggman, the party nominee who lost to the congressman in both 2014 and 2016. Many Democratic establishment activists and liberal groups are coalescing behind venture capitalist Josh Harder, who already has raised more than $900,000 and has almost $700,000 cash-on-hand. A total of six other Democrats are announced candidates for the June 5 qualifying election.

The biggest surprise was the convention delegates bypassing attorney Bryan Caforio (D) for his desired re-match with Rep. Knight. Caforio held the congressman to a 53-47 percent victory in 2016 but now has seven Democratic opponents, including non-profit executive Katie Hill, who is obviously making some progress. The state delegates’ lack of action was even more stunning when understanding that Caforio received 73 percent in a test vote within the district caucus. Both Caforio and Hill have raised just slightly under $700,000 for the 2018 campaign.

It’s less surprising that no official endorsements were rendered in the two main open seats, Royce’s Orange/Los Angeles County district, and Issa’s Orange/San Diego County CD.

In the Royce open seat, eight Democrats have announced, but two are gaining most of the early support. The Democratic establishment appears to prefer lottery winner and retired Navy officer Gil Cisneros, while the liberal activists are drawn toward physician and former Wall Street analyst Mai-Khanh Tran. The former won a $250 million jackpot in the California lottery, so campaign finances are of little concern to him. Dr. Tran has amassed more than $817,000 in receipts and had more than $534,000 remaining in the bank at year’s end.

Seeing no endorsement in the open Issa seat, however, was actually expected. With 2016 nominee Doug Applegate running the closest losing campaign in the country during the last cycle, but out-of-district attorney Mike Levin raising the most early money, this race is already moving toward an unclear finish.

Some analysts believe that having too many candidates in key races will lead to a different set of problems by splitting votes, resources, and party activists while a large field drives the eventual nominee to the far left in order to compete for the loyal Democratic primary voter, and such may be starting to unfold. Thus, the California Democratic Party Convention endorsement process could be the first tangible symbol suggesting that these obstacles are beginning to appear.

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