The California Democratic Party Endorsement
This weekend was an opportunity for Steve Filson to demonstrate that he has any sort of substantial support within the district. Specifically, a caucus of various representatives from the Democratic Party voted on whether to place a candidate on the consent calendar for endorsement by the California Democratic Party at their convention at the end of this month. Even though state Senator Mike Machado and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren both called the eligible voters on Steve Filson’s behalf, he came away with a paltry showing. Once again, we have evidence that Steve Filson’s main constituency are elected officials, many of whom don’t even live in the district. Meanwhile, Jerry McNerney made a very strong showing.
To begin with, let me explain the process so that the relevance of this vote can be understood. Each election year the California Democratic Party (CDP) is asked by candidates to make an endorsement in partisan races across the state. This endorsement takes on a special importance for partisan races with contested primaries. But, because of the divisive nature of primary battles, the CDP has a process that ensures that all stakeholders in the party get a chance to vote (through their representatives) on the endorsement, and that an endorsement of a non-incumbent is made only when supermajorities of the eligible voters want to give the endorsement to that particular candidate.
This weekend was the first of two opportunities for a candidate to get on the consent calendar for the CDP endorsement on Sunday, April 30. A consent calendar is a list of uncontroversial motions that are dealt with en masse. Thus it is usually difficult to get on a consent calendar and fairly easy for those who oppose a motion to take it off the consent calendar. Specifically, for a candidate to be put on the consent calendar at the pre-endorsement meeting this weekend, the candidate had to receive 70% or more of the votes cast. And even if the candidate met the 70% threshold, any five delegates from the district to the Democratic State Central Committee (the body that meets during the CDP convention) can take that candidate off the consent calendar by challenging the placement in writing.
For those races in which one candidate received at least 50% but less than 70% at the pre-endorsement meeting this weekend, and for those candidates who received 70% or more but whose placement on the consent calendar was challenged by five members of the DSCC, there is another opportunity to be placed on the consent calendar at the convention itself. (If no candidate in a given race received at least 50% this weekend, no endorsement will be made for that race).
And at the convention, the threshold to be placed on the consent calendar is lowered to 60% for non-incumbents (or 50% for incumbents) of voting delegates who live in the district. (I should note for the sake of accuracy that some delegates don’t attend the convention and they proxy their vote to someone who would otherwise not be a delegate, but in that case the proxy voter is counted as if he or she were the delegate whose proxy vote he or she holds).
If someone is placed on the consent calendar at the convention it is virtually impossible to remove them barring some huge problem with the candidate (e.g. they are a follower of Lyndon LaRouche or something similar). So if a candidate in this race meets that 60% threshold at the convention, they will get the endorsement of the state party, which is obviously huge.
What Happened on Saturday
On Saturday, Jerry McNerney received 27 of the 39 votes cast, with Steve Filson receiving 10 and two people voting “no endorsement.” Consequently, McNerney received 69.2% of the vote to Steve Filson’s 25.6%. (Steve Thomas either didn’t seek the endorsement or nobody voted for him).
Now it is important to note that the universe of eligible voters on Saturday was greater than the universe of eligible voters at the convention. On Saturday all delegates to the DSCC living in the district, all members of the Democratic County Central Committees who live in the district (some of whom are also delegates to the DSCC), as could a small number of representatives from the Democratic Clubs, were eligible to vote. At the convention, only the DSCC members will have a vote. But the vote on Saturday was public, so it ought to be possible to figure out who voted for whom and see what’s going to happen at the convention.
Still, it’s likely that at least five of those ten voters for Filson are members of the DSCC. So even though McNerney fell one vote shy of the 70% threshold, it is still likely that had he received that extra vote, he would have been removed from the consent calendar by a challenge from DSCC members and essentially put in the same place he is now. And if Filson could not find five members of the DSCC to support him now, he’s not going to stop McNerney from getting the endorsement at the convention. So I consider the simple fact that McNerney received 69% of the vote to speak volumes about the level of support for him within the district.
This is especially true because Zoe Lofgren and Mike Machado personally called eligible voters to get them to vote “no endorsement.” They clearly knew that Steve Filson would not hit the 70% threshold and almost certainly wanted to see neither McNerney nor Filson receive 50% of the vote on Saturday, which would have ended the endorsement process and would have prevented anything from happening at the convention. So the votes that McNerney got came from people who are solid supporters and not inclined to bow to the pressure of the electeds. (I should also mention that the two “no endorsement” votes came from members of the San Ramon club, and I suspect that the votes reflect a lingering desire for Margee Ensign to still be in the race/the same dissatisfaction with McNerney and Filson that led to Ensign getting so much support in the first place. I say this because neither Machado nor Lofgren represents San Ramon, so it’s unlikely that a) they called these voters or b) that these voters would be especially swayed by these types of calls).
Conversely, the fact that Steve Filson only received ten votes speaks volumes about how little he has expanded his base of support within the district. For all of his bluster about a growing campaign, he has really failed to demonstrate any sort of strength in the district. I mean, 25.6% is a really horrible showing. Think about it. If it were not for the two “no endorsement” voters who could have simply abstained, Jerry McNerney would have been placed on the consent calendar. Thus, Filson only managed to block McNerney on the basis of a functional coalition between people who support Filson and people who don’t support anyone. And remember, this was for a 70% threshold, which is a very high bar.
What’s Going to Happen Now?
As I said, above, all of this will be resolved at the CDP convention at the end of the month. Right now I cannot handicap the chance that McNerney will get the endorsement, although it’s pretty clear that Steve Filson won’t get the endorsement unless something drastic changes. I need to see who voted for whom on Saturday, and on what basis each voter was eligible to vote (i.e. whether they were eligible because they are a club rep, a DSCC delegate, or a county committee member). Also, not everyone who was eligible to vote on Saturday did vote. So it’s possible that there are some DSCC delegates who didn’t vote on Saturday but who will be able to vote at the convention. Again, I need to see a list of who voted for whom, and who didn’t vote.
Still on a prima facie level, it looks like McNerney has an excellent shot to win the endorsement of the CDP, especially since I have heard (but I need to verify) that McNerney did especially well among DSCC delegates. I certainly know (and know of) a lot more delegates for McNerney than I know for Filson. Regardless, I think the fact that Filson’s best hope is to prevent McNerney from getting the endorsement shows that he’s in a really weak position. Yet again, for all of his rhetoric, when given the opportunity to demonstrate his “strength,” Steve Filson has failed to deliver the goods.
(By the way, I was prompted to write this post by this diary at Calitics, which is a great community blog covering California politics).