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Democratic Party Endorsements Elude Feinstein, Most Statewide Candidates

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State Sen. Kevin de León was the clear favorite of Democratic delegates at the party convention in San Diego. (Scott Shafer/KQED)

Scott Shafer co-hosts Political Breakdown, a new weekly podcast and radio program on California politics. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

None of the Democratic candidates running for California's two highest-profile statewide races -- governor and U.S. Senate -- received an official endorsement from the California Democratic Party at its convention in San Diego this weekend.

Among the biggest losers was incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who finished far behind her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Kevin de León. The president pro tem of the state Senate received 54 percent of delegates' votes to just 37 percent for Feinstein. It takes 60 percent to get an endorsement.

But how much will that ultimately matter to Feinstein? Democratic campaign strategist Katie Merrill says de León as the challenger needed the endorsement much more than Feinstein.

"De León has such a narrow path to the Senate, and he had to have this Democratic Party endorsement," she said. "This was the one strategic thing he needed to accomplish here and he did not accomplish it. This was a loss for him."


In the governor's race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was the favorite of delegates with 39 percent, followed by state Treasurer John Chiang, who came in a  solid second with 30 percent. Former State Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin was third with 20 percent, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa trailed badly with just 9 percent support. Recent polls have shown Villaraigosa in second behind Newsom, but his lack of support from union members cost him at the convention.

Overall, after hours of speeches, lobbying, phone calls and texts, only two candidates running in contested races for statewide offices in California reached the 60 percent delegate vote needed to secure an official endorsement from the California Democratic Party.

In the race for insurance commissioner, state Sen. Ricardo Lara won a solid 68 percent of the vote to secure the endorsement over his chief Democratic rival, newcomer Asif Mahmood, who got 26 percent.

And in the race for superintendent of public instruction, East Bay Assemblyman Tony Thurmond was the overwhelming favorite of delegates, receiving 89 percent of the vote over school reformer Marshall Tuck with just 5 percent.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to replace Kamala Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate, came in second in delegate votes to current Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, now running for AG. Neither got the party's endorsement, but Jones came close with 56 percent to 42 percent for Becerra. Jones is a much better known quantity to grass-roots Democrats, having run and won statewide twice before, while this is Becerra's first statewide run.

Official party endorsements are no guarantee of support from voters, but they can be helpful, especially in down-ballot races that get less attention from the media.

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