California Democrats won't endorse candidates for governor, US Senate

State Senate leader Kevin de Leõn poses with supporters moments after delegates finished voting for their endorsement picks at the California Democrats' state convention in San Diego.
State Senate leader Kevin de Leõn poses with supporters moments after delegates finished voting for their endorsement picks at the California Democrats' state convention in San Diego.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

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A fractured California Democratic Party could not reach enough of a consensus to issue endorsements in the upcoming races for governor, U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and attorney general this weekend in San Diego.

Many of the party faithful look to the endorsements to pick through crowded fields of candidates before casting their ballots.

But reflecting divisions that have grown even more acute since the party lost the 2016 presidential election, the estimated 3,000 delegates at the California Democratic Party convention failed to get behind any single candidate in the state's major contests.

In one surprising turn, state Senate leader Kevin de Leõn outperformed Dianne Feinstein, the incumbent and five-term U.S. senator, by a wide margin in the delegate endorsement vote. Still, he did not reach the 60 percent threshold needed to win the party’s endorsement.

The final tally, 54 percent to Feinstein's 37 percent, was seen as a rebuke of Feinstein's more moderate politics in the face of a Republican White House that has enraged progressives.

Democrats also failed to reach consensus on an endorsement in the governor's race, where a crowded field of well-known political names have split the party loyalists.

Among the major candidates, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom led the field in the delegate voting, followed by state Treasurer John Chiang. They earned 39 and 30 percent, respectively, of the vote.

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin drew 20 percent of the support, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa trailed the pack with just 9 percent. He has been polling second among likely voters.

The party also did not come to agreement on whom to back in the attorney general and lieutenant governor races. Xavier Becerra, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown and confirmed by the state Senate last year, drew just 42 percent of the delegates' backing to the 56 percent received by state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

In the contest for lieutenant governor, Ed Hernandez received the most support with 42 percent of the vote followed closely by Eleni Kounalakis with 41 percent.

Several key Southern California congressional district races also produced no endorsements.

Convention delegates split their support among multiple Democrats running for the seats currently held by Republicans Darrell Issa, Ed Royce and Steve Knight. The Democrats consider the three districts crucial in their push to retake the U.S. House in this year's midterm elections.

Some Democrats now fear that without clear party backing for one candidate in each district, only Republicans could advance to the general election. Under the state’s primary rules, the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — advance to the November runoff.

Former state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who resigned last week from his Southern California district seat, made news again over the weekend.

Mendoza stepped down amid allegations that he sexually harassed at least six women. But he has called the Senate's investigation into his behavior "farcical" and unfair and is challenging the process.

He shocked many state Democrats when he arrived at the San Diego Convention Center looking for support to regain his seat.

Mendoza stood before a room full of delegates deciding the party's endorsement in his former district, the 32nd State Senate that includes Lakewood and Buena Park. He appealed to the delegates very briefly and thanked them for showing up.

But his troubles with the sexual harassment allegations followed him. One attendee held up a sign that read: "Me Too," "Times Up," and "We Said Enough."

In the end, the vote count showed Mendoza failed to win the party's support. He received just 10 votes; 35 others voted for no endorsement in that district.

His political fate will be up to district residents who vote in the district primary election in June.

The convention wraps up on Sunday afternoon.

This story has been updated. The Associated Press contributed to this report.