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Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

First lady Michelle Obama acknowledges the crowd's enthusiastic response to her speech Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

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California delegates have more on their mind than Obama re-election

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 16A
Last Modified: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 - 8:00 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The welcome packet for California delegates attending this week's Democratic National Convention includes a letter from state party Chairman John Burton calling the four-day political gathering the "kickoff for our final push to victory in November."

"When we return to California, we've got a real fight on our hands," the letter reads.

Burton wasn't talking about re-electing President Barack Obama. The opponent California Democrats "must defeat," he wrote, is Proposition 32, a November ballot measure that could curb unions' influence by banning the use of payroll-deducted dollars for political spending.

With Obama a virtual shoo-in to carry blue California, state Democrats have pivoted hard to state-specific election concerns this week, particularly Proposition 32, which could dramatically alter the balance of power in state politics.

California Republicans, in contrast, spent their week in Tampa zeroed in on nominee Mitt Romney and the need to kick Obama out of the White House.

"One thing that each of us as Democratic Party activists recognizes is that our values, our members' ability to fight for values is coming under a ferocious attack," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez told state delegates Tuesday. "This year, the Republicans aren't satisfied with just campaigns on issues or candidates. They want to take the labor movement out of the political process."

The measure, which would also ban unions and corporations from making direct contributions to candidates, isn't the only non-presidential priority California Democrats have on the ballot.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is looking to her home state to help her party take back the majority in Congress. Wins in targeted state Senate seats could give Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in the upper house, allowing taxes to clear the chamber without Republican votes. Democrats are also backing Proposition 30, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure.

Because Obama is unlikely to spend any significant amount of money campaigning in the Golden State, Democrats may rely on those other campaigns to boost turnout, especially among voters who might skip the polls if they think a win for the president there is a sure thing.

"When they go home, we want them knocking on doors and getting people out, and that means a two-thirds majority in the California state Senate, getting closer to two-thirds in the Assembly," said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Bobbie Jean Anderson, a delegate and Services Employees International Union Local 721 member from Los Angeles, said that while Obama is her personal top priority, she's focusing on Proposition 32 because of the impact it could have on Democrats given the role of labor in funding campaigns.

"If that proposition wins, it will really stifle us," the 72-year-old retiree said.

Delegates say enthusiasm for Obama can also help the state-level campaigns by motivating the Democratic base.

"That energy is going to carry on into those measures as well," said Terry Simms, a delegate from Chino. For Simms, a retired AT&T executive, ensuring a return to the White House for Obama will mean traveling to Nevada, a swing state, to help the campaign there once the convention ends.

"For me, the focus is on Obama," he said. "You know, my energy comes from being a part of the whole convention, in terms of what California can do, not only in our state, but what we can do, more importantly, in the swing states."

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