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    State Democratic Convention: 14 Presidential Candidates, 3400+ Delegates, 2 Pulled Muscles

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    From May 31–June 2, the Moscone Center hosted the California Democratic Party (CADEM) Convention that served as a preview of the upcoming 2020 presidential campaign. Fourteen presidential hopefuls descended on San Francisco like the 8th plague of locusts during Pharaoh’s reign in Egypt; the only difference being that the Jewish delegates and attendees hung around instead of escaping before their dough had time to rise.  

    I was granted a media pass and attempted to channel my inner Rachel Maddow and Annie Leibovitz. While photographers had front row access, we were not allowed to stand for more than a few seconds at a time. After an hour of squatting and standing, I heard a faint pop and felt a painful burn at the front of both my thighs as my quad muscles decided they’d had enough of this. Such is the sacrifice I make for Democracy.

    The Convention, otherwise known as “Comic-Con” for political nerds, is open to the public, but a pass is required to enter the cavernous room known as the “Floor” where the speeches are held. Traditionally, the speakers are leaders of the State party, California elected officials, and candidates for party positions. At most Conventions, a popular federal elected official or candidate will helicopter in for some California love and drive the crowd wild—VP Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren attended the Convention in 2016 and that was regarded as a big “get” for CADEM.

    At this year’s Convention, our own senator and current presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, had a prime speaking slot. Surprisingly, thirteen other candidates swooped in to parade across the stage, claim their 7-minutes of glory (Candidate Speed Dating!) and mingle among the masses at both the Moscone Center and events (mostly fundraising) throughout the city. Candidates’ messages were generally similar: beat Trump in 2020, expand access to affordable healthcare, protect women’s right to choose, combat climate change and the usual list of Democratic values. Rather than delve into message and policy, my review of each speaker will focus on the vibe and buzz (or lack thereof) and my personal thoughts on their candidacy.  

    Senator Kamala Harris (CA)

    As the hometown senator, Kamala rightfully got the opening slot; the crowd loved her, I love her, and I love her husband Doug. I’m all-in for Kamala. She’s brilliant, qualified and has the “it” factor needed to get elected.  An added bonus that I shared with her husband, Doug, is that he too would be a trailblazer as the first Jewish “First Spouse” (“First Gentleman?”) in history.  

    Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (TX)

    If I lived in Texas, I definitely would have voted for him. My partner Amy and I convinced her parents to vote for him. We need Beto to run for senator in Texas. Spread the wealth, Beto. You came so close to beating Ted Cruz. You can take out John Cornyn in 2020. Please end this vanity run for president.  

    Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA)

    Having never seen Senator Warren speak live, I never realized how dynamic she is; she has a talent for reading the crowd. She can elucidate a detailed policy plank while actually increasing the level of enthusiasm in the audience.  I feel like I’m cheating on Kamala, but I love Warren, too. Her tagline of “I have a plan for that” is not just a gimmick, and is not a vague, “I’m going to roll up my sleeves and wrap my head around the problem.” She actually has produced realistic proposals to move the country forward. If Kamala doesn’t win the primary, I’m looking at you, Senator Warren.

    Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

    Senator Gillibrand only has two problems: she is neither Kamala Harris nor Elizabeth Warren.

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI)

    My initial thought was, “Who is this 38-year-old from Hawaii with a funny name, and why is she running?” While she too suffers from “NKH NEW syndrome” (not Kamala Harris, not Elizabeth Warren), she has potential. She’s a veteran, she presents well and has an energy that draws people in. I think I developed a little crush on her, but that felt like I was cheating on Kamala (and Doug) so like the line from the musical Book of Mormon, I “Turn[ed] It Off.”

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN)

    Mayor Pete is the shiny new toy and darling of the LGBT community. I like Pete, and admire his education. I have immense respect for his service to the country, but he’s not ready to be president. Yes, he’s 10 times more qualified than Trump, but that’s a specious argument because so were half the people at the Convention. His speaking style is less dynamic and folksier; he reminded me of Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. That said, with a little more seasoning, I’d definitely vote for Opie, I mean Mayor Pete, in the future. 

    Congressman Eric Swalwell (CA)

    One of our own from California, Congressman Swalwell gets props for giving a shout-out to the volunteers who were instrumental in flipping seven House seats in California (and multiple others throughout the country). He also had, by far, the best line in the whole Convention: “You cut our time in hell in half.” He’s not going to be president in 2020, but don’t count him out for future races. 

    Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN)

    She is also a sufferer of “NKH NEW syndrome,” which is too bad.  At the Convention, unlike the more “famous” candidates who prowled the halls and disrupted meetings while surrounded by their screaming, sign-waving sycophants (I’m looking at you, Bernie and Beto), Senator Klobuchar quietly walked around without an entourage and made herself available to the mere mortals who wanted to chat and take selfies.  

    Former Governor John Hickenlooper (CO)

    Poor guy—he was one of two candidates who got booed by the crowd. He’s not going anywhere, at least in California.

    Governor Jay Inslee (WA)

    He’s a good climate-change guy, but he didn’t stand out in this crowded field.

    Senator Cory Booker (NJ)

    As the only candidate to refer to the recent tragedy in Virginia Beach, Senator Booker’s comments about gun violence re-energized the crowd. He definitely has appeal and is a popular choice, but I don’t think he is the next “Obama.” If anyone is close to being another Obama, it’s Kamala, so just cut to the chase and vote for Kamala.

    Senator Bernie Sanders (VT)

    Not my guy, he has good ideas and I’m grateful for the work he has done to energize the party, but I don’t think he can beat Trump and that’s a big problem. Senator Warren’s stock is rising and she is chipping away at Bernie’s base, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    Former Mayor Julian Castro (TX)

    Why is he running and not his twin brother, Congressman Joaquin? They should run as president and vice president on the same ticket—how convenient, as they could fill in for each other and no one would know.  

    Former Congressman John Delaney (MD)

    Who? He was the other speaker who got booed and is not going anywhere.  

    The Convention, By the Numbers

    (for the math nerds)

    • more than 3,400 delegates registered for the convention;
    • 340 media credentialed;
    • total number of attendees was approximately 5,000;
    • 6 million registered Democrats in California;
    • with the primary in CA moved to February, there is another CDP Convention this year in Long Beach, CA, in November.

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner and has served in leadership positions in multiple nonprofit and community-based organizations.