Capitol Alert

What’s going on at the California Democratic convention in San Jose?

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a visit at St. Paul’s Union Depot train station Feb. 18 to mark the seventh anniversary of the economic stimulus package in St. Paul, Minn. Biden is the keynote speaker on Saturday at the California Democratic Party convention.
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a visit at St. Paul’s Union Depot train station Feb. 18 to mark the seventh anniversary of the economic stimulus package in St. Paul, Minn. Biden is the keynote speaker on Saturday at the California Democratic Party convention. AP

It’s that time of year when California Democratic activists hold a convention to celebrate their supremacy and help select their next crop of elected leaders.

With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail preparing for Super Tuesday, the more than 3,000 attendees gathered in San Jose this weekend must instead reconcile themselves to hearing from Vice President Joe Biden, who passed up a run for president.

Other speakers on Saturday include U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is retiring after four terms, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, another liberal firebrand who now teaches at UC Berkeley (Reich once went on an ill-fated date with Hillary Clinton when the two were in college).

Delegates also will hear from the usual slate of city, statewide, congressional and legislative leaders. One Democrat that won’t be there to celebrate, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the only declared candidate for governor in 2018, will be tending to perhaps more important matters. Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, are expecting their fourth child.

Among the other highlights of the confab will be the contrasting styles of the candidates running to replace Boxer: Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange and Attorney General Kamala Harris. The pair is expected to command much of the spotlight while they compete for the party's formal support.

The fierce endorsement process, explored in a story last month, has been playing out for weeks as supporters of the campaigns work into the final hours getting commitments from delegates. Balloting is scheduled to take place Saturday afternoon with results due about 8 p.m.

Many of the other endorsement fights have been settled. In the outstanding congressional contests, Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, who upset union and liberal activists for helping advance a controversial trade agreement, will try to recover from an early stumble. Bera faces no Democratic challengers, so anything short of an endorsement would be cause for distress.

The other races involve at least two Democratic candidates. In southeastern Los Angeles County, Rep. Grace Napolitano of Norwalk is being targeted by termed-out Assemblyman Roger Hernández of Baldwin Park. He kept her to 62 percent at the pre-endorsement conference (70 percent was needed), but things could get tougher for him Saturday, where the incumbent needs just 50 percent of the vote.

The re-match between Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna, another generational clash, pits the eight-term congressman against a popular Silicon Valley attorney who lost to Honda by fewer than 5,000 votes in 2014. While he’s enjoyed the strong support of labor, some allies have fled following the launch of an ethics probe.

In two Democratic pickup opportunities, Fowler Councilman Daniel Parra is going up against Emilio Huerta, son of the labor legend Dolores Huerta, for the right to challenge GOP Rep. David Valadao of Hanford in the 21st District.

In the Antelope Valley’s 25th District, represented by Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Lou Vince, a favorite of local activists, will try to surpass the 60 percent – higher because there’s no Democratic incumbent – threshold needed to beat back attorney Bryan Caforio.

There are several reasons why the endorsements matter: Voters unfamiliar with the candidates and their policy positions look for other cues, and the party’s seal of approval can function as a powerful signal. The party can spend money on their behalf on campaign mailers, phone-banking and precinct walking.

Perhaps equally important, the party can’t spend in the traditional way to prop up an un-endorsed incumbent. That dynamic could play out in the repeat rivalry between Assemblywoman Patty Lopez and former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, who was unseated by Lopez in 2014. He notched 95 percent of the vote at the preendorsement conference and appears on his way to netting the party endorsement.

There also are plenty of pending skirmishes for other legislative seats.

▪ Davis Mayor Dan Wolk goes up against Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor in the 4th Assembly District covering Davis, Napa and parts north.

▪ Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s 43rd District, opening up next year, features nearly too many Democrats to name, but we’ll do it anyway. They are Dennis Bullock, Ardy Kassakian, Laura Friedman, Andrew Blumenfeld, Rajiv Dalal.

▪ After surviving an earlier scare, in part because of her stance on controversial climate change legislation last year, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown will go for the endorsement against environmentalist Eloise Gomez Reyes, an attorney who ran for Congress in 2014.

▪ Hernández’s 48th District will see a clash between water district official Bryan Urias and Blanca Rubio, a teacher and school board member.

The two big state Senate standoffs involve current and former lawmakers. Senate District 3, where Sen. Lois Wolk is terming out, features ex-Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, Assemblyman Bill Dodd and retired Lt. Col. Gabe Griess.

And the 35th Senate District offers a match-up between a pair of ex-assemblymen, Warren Furutani and Steven Bradford.

Stay tuned to The Bee’s Capitol Alert for highlights from the weekend.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago