Addressing the DNC's summer meeting in San Francisco on Friday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stressed the importance of uniting to defeat 'the most dangerous president in American history.' (Stephanie Lister/KQED)
Twelve of the Democrats vying for the party's nomination for president — along with one who used the occasion to end his campaign — appeared onstage at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in San Francisco Friday.
The event, coming less than six months from the first caucus in Iowa, could be some candidates' last chance to make their case to the party faithful in person. Only 10 candidates have made the September debate stage so far, although several others are close.
Protesters Call for Climate Debate
One candidate, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, used the opportunity to announce he would end his presidential candidacy — and to appeal to Democrats to unite in the coming months. He promised to work to "keep the House, flip the Senate, and to win back statehouses across the country next November."
"And most of all, I will be campaigning my ass off for whoever wins our nomination for 2020," he said. "Donald Trump is going to be harder to beat than most people think. But we can and we must beat him because our country, our values and our future depends on it."
Skipping the cattle call was former Vice President Joe Biden, the race's perceived front-runner, who also chose to pass on another California Democratic event earlier this summer. Like the other candidates who didn't make the trek, Biden — along with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke — opted to send video messages.
Here were some of the most interesting moments of the day, where each candidate was given just eight minutes to speak.
'2020 Will Not Be 2016'
California Sen. Kamala Harris got a hometown reception. Dozens of her supporters packed the room and gave her an enthusiastic welcome. At one point, she asked them to tone it down so they didn't eat into her time.
Harris started by noting that she first ran for office in San Francisco, as a long-shot candidate for district attorney. She sprinkled her remarks with folksy references to her parents' history as civil rights activists, noting that anytime she and her sister, Maya, came home complaining about something, her mother would ask, "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"So I decided to run for president of the United States," she said, to raucous applause from her supporters.
Harris went on to argue for "prosecuting the case against four more years of Donald Trump," her standard stump line.
“It will take a prosecutor to do that — and I will tell you it’s a long rap sheet,” she said.
Harris outlined that case, including Trump's trade policy and the impact it has had on farmers, auto workers and consumers.
She argued that Democrats need to play to win in 2020.
"This guy betrayed people, and so when pundits ... keep comparing 2020 to 2016, I am here to say: 2020 will not be 2016. It will not be 2016, and 2018 proved that,” Harris said.
“To anybody who was watching when we elected 100 women to the United States Congress, when we did the work of showing that we were woke and we were organized and we were on the ground ... we will do whatever is necessary to make sure every person has a vote and that vote is counted.”
'Joining and Organizing and Sacrificing'
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was the first presidential candidate to speak to the afternoon session, and due to a technical glitch with the recorded announcement, the canned "voice of God" introduced him as Sen. Michael Bennet, who spoke several hours earlier.
Booker rolled with it.
“I love Michael Bennet but I am not Michael Bennet," Booker said. "I am Dwayne Johnson the Rock!”
Booker followed a stem-winding speech from the Rev. William J. Barber II, who preached unity, saying “this is not the time to turn on each other. It’s a time to turn to each other.”
It's a message that syncs well with Booker’s fundamental appeal.
"We are Democrats because we have faith in the idea of joining and organizing and sacrificing together — it’s not just a feel-good exercise," he said.
Booker described this as “a time of a lot of pain and a lot of hurt,” including lead in too many urban water systems and a criminal justice system "that supervises more African Americans than there were slaves in 1865."
Booker asserted that the way to beat Trump is “not by making it all about him. ... That’s what he wants.” He added that “we don’t win by emulating or matching his tactics in the gutter, dividing, demeaning and degrading. This is a time to double down on our values ... we have got to bring the light and the heat."
In the hometown of LGBTQ rights leader Harvey Milk, Booker quoted Milk's admonition that “you need to give them hope.”
“This country is looking for our vision,” Booker said. “We’ve got to speak to our highest aspirations, to elect leaders who unite folks” and be the party of “vision of hope and love. That’s why I’m in this race,” Booker said.
'We Cannot Afford to Fail'
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t break much new ground in his remarks. In fairness, few of the candidates did.
Calling this “the most important election in our lifetime,” Sanders stressed the importance of uniting to defeat “the most dangerous president in American history,” adding that “we cannot afford to fail.”
Sanders said the path to victory for Democrats is "rallying an unprecedented grassroots uprising that sweeps Trump and what he represents out of office."
"Let us be honest with one another — this is no longer between incrementalism and the transformative change working families are crying out for,” Sanders said, adding that “playing it safe is the most dangerous course of all — and could very well cost us this election.”
Sanders reiterated his platform, including his Medicare for All bill replacing private health insurance, making college free, eliminating student debt and taking on “Silicon Valley and Wall Street billionaires” who enrich themselves “while paying workers starvation wages. “
Taking an implied shot at front-runner Biden, Sanders urged Democrats to make a pledge to “commit ourselves to being as bold and brave as the great Democratic Party was in past national emergencies.”
'We Need to Fight Back'
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also stuck to her well-trodden stump speech, opening her remarks by noting that she knew, since second grade, that she wanted to be a teacher.
"I used to line up my dollies and teach them. I had a reputation for being tough but fair," she said. "By the time I graduated from high school we didn't have the money in my family for a college application, much less to send me off for four years at a university."
Warren noted that she was able to achieve her dream because of a community college where a semester cost only $50 — tuition she was able to pay for with a waitress job.
"I got that opportunity because somebody invested in it," she said. "I see an America today. It's working great, working fabulously for a thinner and thinner slice at the top — it's just not working much for anyone else."
Warren called for "attacking corruption head-on," including: making all public candidates release their tax returns; ending the revolving door between Wall Street and Capitol Hill; making it easier to join and form unions; offering universal child care; erasing college debt; increasing teacher pay; rolling back voter suppression laws; and ending gerrymandering.
"We need to call it out. We need to fight back," she said. "I believe that this is our time and this is our way. It's how we rebuild and strengthen our democracy. "
'We Have to Keep The Heat On'
Congressman Tim Ryan, of Ohio, took to the stage at the end of the morning on a mission.
Ryan said he just came from a "tough couple days" in Dayton, Ohio, where a recent shooting killed nine people and injured 27 others. Ryan said he spoke with several people who had been present at other mass shootings
"It's starting to happen so often that the same human being is experiencing this multiple times, and I will tell you that we have to keep the heat on," he said.
Ryan called for Democrats to be aggressive on gun control, on the economy, on workers' rights, on climate change and on other issues.
"We can't let Mitch McConnell squirm his way out of this. We can't let Donald Trump give us the Potomac two-step," he said.
"Mitch McConnell: Get off your ass and pass gun reform in the United States Senate. Get off your ass and pass gun reform in the United States Senate. The ground has shifted underneath the Republican Party on this issue, and we are going to make sure that they either pass this legislation or they pay the price at the ballot box in 2020."