The California Democratic Party (CADEM) failed to secure an endorsement for a U.S. Senate candidate at the CADEM endorsing convention over the weekend, highlighting a major party split amongst the three major Democrats in the race.
Throughout 2023, the race for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat has been a roller coaster ride for Democratic candidates. Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA) and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) have been fluctuating in the one and two spot in polls since entering the race in January. At the same time, Schiff has taken a commanding lead in fundraising, bringing in millions more than any other candidate has. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), who has long been polling in third behind the two, has been more of a critical success, receiving more endorsements than both Schiff and Porter. The other major Democratic candidates, tech executive Lexi Reese (D) and TV anchorwoman Christina Pascucci (D), have remained far below the top three yet still have taken a few points each in recent polls.
In the last few months, the battle between Schiff and Porter for the top spot in polls has continued to go back and forth between the two. However, two major trends have come up. One has been Lee slowly going down in polls. She has not seen a double digit percentage in polls since June and reached a new low of 6% in a poll last month. The other has been the rise of Republican and former major league baseball star Steve Garvey, whose 10% polling in the last few polls have firmly put him in third place above Lee in polling and within striking distance of Schiff and Porter. Going into the November 2023 State Endorsement Convention, Democrats had to contend with the fact that Garvey was now within 3 points of overtaking second place in polling with less than 4 months to go before the Primary election in March.
Meeting in Sacramento over the weekend, Democrats were to endorse several major candidates, with the highlight being the U.S. Senate candidate. The convention itself quickly grew chaotic, with anti-Israel protesters causing some event cancellations on Saturday and otherwise disrupting the convention. Inside, endorsement voting also proved rocky. To get an official party endorsement for Senator, which would be a giant advantage in the tight race, candidate needs at least 60% of party delegate votes. However, voting over the weekend failed to get a candidate even close to that amount.
At the end of voting, Lee shocked many in the party by having the overall lead of delegate support, coming in with 41.5% of the vote. Schiff, who has been leading in most areas before this weekend, came in a close second with 40.2% of the vote. Porter was a distant third with only 16% of the vote, with around 2% of delegates choosing not to pick a candidate at all. Other candidates, like Reese, only received a few votes in total.
In a statement on X, Lee said that the delegate vote was a major sign of a turnaround, and that her campaign was finally picking up momentum late in the race.
“I am incredibly proud and honored to receive the support of so many hard-working Democratic Party delegates,” said Lee. “From day one, this campaign has been focused on delivering the progressive agenda that working people in California deserve: a Green New Deal, single-payer health care, and economic, racial, social and environmental justice for all. Our momentum is picking up speed, and tonight’s vote is evidence that our movement is touching people across the Golden State. The people want a tried and tested progressive with the record to prove it. I’m ready to deliver.”
I am incredibly proud and honored to receive the support of so many hard-working Democratic Party delegates.
From day one, this campaign has been focused on delivering the progressive agenda that working people in California deserve: a Green New Deal, single-payer health care,… pic.twitter.com/l5EI7mVwIS
— Barbara Lee (@BarbaraLeeForCA) November 19, 2023
Democrats split on Senate candidates
However, political experts told the Globe on Monday that the vote could hardly be claimed as a victory, as it showed that the Democrats were still very divided between the three candidates and that the support of the very progressive Lee amongst delegates greatly clashed with her overall popular support.
“Generally delegates to these things are more passionate, and as a result, tend to be more one-sided politically speaking,” added Stephanie Lewis, a pollster in Southern California. “You don’t find a lot of DINOs or mavericks there. So you can see how there was such a shift towards Lee, who is regarded as one of the farthest on the left. In comparison, Porter and Schiff are more in the middle of Democrats when it comes to ideology. So when it comes to polling or donations, people are a lot more in favor of Schiff and Porter. But when it is skewed in, say, a party vote, people are generally in favor of Lee. Endorsements, well, you can see how Lee has so many when you look at the people and groups, and as we saw from the polls, those didn’t do much for her.”
“For the Democrats, a party backing before the vote itself would be huge. But there is just such a split right now. People on the farther left, as well as the majority of black voters, favor Lee. Schiff and Porter, meanwhile, are grabbing everyone around that, with older people generally going towards Schiff and younger people with Porter.”
“The big thing though is that division. When it comes to the general vote, the party will rally around one candidate if someone like Garvey gets in the second spot. But if we have two Democrats, they are going to rip each other apart. This vote showed what Democrats in California don’t like to admit – that there is a big division there. Multiple divisions. For the GOP, while there are still people like Early giving it a go, generally most have gone with Garvey.”
“Either way, Democrats are going to lose face here. They get two Dem candidates in, and those two are going to waste tens of millions going after each other through most of 2024 and show just how divided Democrats are. If it is one Democrat against Garvey, yeah they still get the seat unless something crazy happens, but they are hurt because they beat out a few of their golden candidates. Oh, and if the GOP candidate does well enough, it could show the Democrats losing ground overall.”
“Democrats don’t have a unified candidate right now for the Senate seat, and now Lee is making a comeback and the GOP is gaining ground on the other two. It’s seriously a mess, and all those protestors really kind of underscored it all on Saturday.”
New post-convention polls are due to come out in the coming weeks.
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