Dems Pre-Endorsements Presage Tough 2012
And yet, in some cases, that's exactly what could happen after this weekend. Welcome to the world of intraparty competition under California's new primary election rules.
Democrats across the state gathered in regional meetings on Saturday and Sunday to vote in what were known as "pre-endorsement" meetings -- gatherings to determine whether particular legislative and congressional candidates would receive endorsements of the California Democratic Party at its convention next month in San Diego.
The basic rules were simple: any candidate receiving at least 70% of the votes in the local meeting will have his or her candidacy placed on an endorsement "consent calendar" at the convention. Translation: they're almost guaranteed to be the official party nominee in 2012.
Candidates who received between 50% and 70% of the votes at their local weekend meeting are now eligible for, but not guaranteed of, the state Democratic party's seal of approval at the February convention. And if no one received at least 50% of the votes, Dems won't offer any endorsement in that legislative or congressional primary.
(And don't even ask me the rules for how Democrats in these local party meetings gained eligibility to vote. Instructions from IKEA make more sense.)
Again, these meetings and subsequent endorsements are notable because of the brave new world of party primaries, ushered in by 2010's Proposition 14 top-two system. It's a world unsettled, too, by new district maps that have left more open seats than at any time in recent history.
As such, a number of Democratic candidates are scrambling for an advantage. And the gold standard is thought (by many) to be the official "Democratic Party candidate" come June.
(If you're wondering about similar fights between Republicans for an official party endorsement, don't. The state GOP's rules are such that getting a state party endorsement is probably harder than a 49'er not letting a punt hit him on the leg. Ouch; too soon?)
Keep in mind that the angling for the inside track among Democrats didn't just start this weekend. Candidates and political consultants have lamented for weeks about the accelerated pace of campaigning under the new rules, beginning with earlier-than-normal endorsements by a number of powerful interest groups. Many believed that an endorsement by these groups -- be it labor, environmentalists, or public safety -- would then create momentum toward this weekend's pre-endorsement and/or next month's convention.
As the tally posted Sunday night by the indefatigable Scott Lay shows, some of the hot races will only get ever so hotter next month at the convention, as either the front-runner or the candidate with the greatest name ID/grassroots support/media attention didn't cross the 70% threshold.
Count in that category the "Battle of the --ermans" in the newly drawn 30th congressional district, where Rep. Brad Sherman came out ahead, but failed to cement his status as the preferred Dem over Rep. Howard Berman. Seven other closely watched races produced a Democratic favorite but no pre-endorsed candidate. That includes one of the most contentious Democratic intraparty fights, in the 50th Assembly district between incumbent Betsy Butler, who is moving into a newly drawn district already occupied by fellow Dems Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom.
Meantime, 17 candidates in closely did manage to snag the all-but-official Democratic party nomination this weekend. That includes contentious battles in the 19th Senate district (former assemblymember Hannah Beth Jackson over Port Hueneme commissioner Jason Hodge); the 9th Senate district (incumbent Loni Hancock getting the nod over incumbent assemblymember Sandre Swanson); the 27th Senate district (incumbent Fran Pavley with no declared opponent but who may be challenged by former Assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg); the 44th congressional district (incumbent Janice Hahn getting the pre-endorsement over fellow incumbent member of Congress Laura Richardson); and the 51st congressional district (where state senator Juan Vargas bested ex-state senator Denise Ducheny, as the tweeted photo above shows).
There were many more on the watch list where the weekend meeting was so divided that there will be no official Democratic party endorsement. Many of these are open seats with multiple Democrats vying for the job, but a few are fights between well-known politicians that could be costly and nasty by the time the dust settles.
And just when will that dust settle? In years past, the fight in these districts for Democratic bragging rights would have ended the day after the primary. But the new rules mean that in districts heavily dominated by one party, the primary will likely push two candidates from the same party onto the November 6 ballot -- where the internal battle will rage on.
Update 2:01 p.m. It's worth pointing out that in a legislative or congressional district where one candidate received at least 50% support this past weekend (but not 70%), any candidate could receive the endorsement at next month's convention. "In other words it's more like it goes into round two" in San Diego, writes Democratic party spokesperson Tenoch Flores.
3:34 p.m. The state party has now posted a PDF online of the results.