Hillary Clinton is a lock to win California in the June 7 presidential primary, polls and pundits suggest. Jess Durfee, former San Diego County Democratic Party chairman, said last week: “I would say that if the trends are going the way they are, California could definitely put Hillary over the top.”
But another election—the statewide party caucuses happening this Sunday, May 1—tells a different story.
Of the 4,505 California Democrats vying to be delegates to the national convention, 51.3 percent aim to nominate Sanders in Philadelphia, according to lists posted on the state party’s website. Another sign of the Bernie boom: All but one of the would-be delegates responding to CityBeat inquiries back Sanders.
Every congressional district in the state is supposed to have two caucuses—one to pick Clinton delegates and one for the Sanders slate. But in San Diego County, several districts will have either two Hillary or two Bernie caucuses.
If delegate applicants equate to voter trends, Sanders may succeed in stalling the Clinton juggernaut—at least in California. But who are these convention wannabes? How do they expect to punch a ticket to Philadelphia in July?
Bernie backer Jim Kilby of Escondido, a 66-year-old retired casino management professor, is going for a delegate slot in the 50th District. “Bernie is in it for what he can do for the 99 percent,” he says. “Hillary will do for the 99 percent what the 1 percent will permit.”
Kilby was a little less clear on the caucus process, however.
“I don’t know how it works,” he says. “Do we have the OK to speak at the caucus?”
Yes. But talk fast.
In every local caucus but one, would-be delegates get 30 seconds to make a pitch starting around 3:15 p.m. on Sunday. That’s to accommodate as many as 64 speeches at a Sanders caucus in Kearny Mesa. (Clinton 51st caucuses in San Diego and Chula Vista will have 15 Philly hopefuls. With under 20 delegates on that ballot, they’ll have a whole minute to orate.)
But speeches won’t really matter, says Durfee, who will attend the DNC as one of four county superdelegates (unpledged types, including all three county Democrats in Congress.)
“Ninety-five percent of the people participating will show up, cast their vote and leave,” said Durfee, the “convenor” or overseer, of a Clinton caucus at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
Durfee, who gave delegate workshops this spring, has advice for those seeking to win a slot.
“It’s about showing up with everyone you know and love that’s a Democrat in your congressional district,” he said. “Actually, you don’t want them hanging around because...they might get excited and vote for somebody else.”
He also suggests running as a slate. Since Dems allocate delegates on a boy-girl-boy-girl basis, an opposite sex partner is best. Moreover, he says, “If you’re going to pair up with someone, pick somebody from a different circle. Not best buddy or spouse. That doesn’t expand your reach. If you’re a schoolteacher, pair up with a nurse. Expand your circle, so collectively you have a big draw.”
Craig Roberts, a party official who tried four times before becoming a DNC delegate, will vie again—one of 25 men running in the Clinton caucus at the LGBT center.
But Roberts notes another path to Philly—applying to be one of 116 at-large delegates: “You might get selected, so why not?” At-largers (in both camps) help the state party meet affirmative action goals (“not quotas,” a party spokesman stressed).
One who might qualify in the disabled demographic (10 percent of delegation) is Bernie backer Lynn Warner of Point Loma, a retired clinical psychologist who says she has two “invisible” disabilities—previously profound major depression and severe chronic fatigue syndrome.
“The likelihood that I would receive enough votes to be one of the top two to four women seems very slim,” she says of the 52nd District caucus.
Still, regional party executive Roberts said the easiest way to become a delegate is winning at the caucus level.
For Kilby, who taught 21 years at UNLV, the odds are long. He’s one of 21 men going for two male delegate slots in his district.
Chances are better for Randall Benson of Carlsbad, a 63-year-old San Onofre nuclear plant engineer nearing retirement who backs Clinton. As one of six men vying for four male delegate spots, he says: “I’m not believing those pie-in-the-sky things that Senator Sanders said.”
Other would-be delegates are using social media to gin up support.
Crown Point’s Kristen Lednovich, a 27-year-old biotech scientist, says she’s contacting voters via a Facebook events page. “I want to make this fun,” she said. “We’re going out to celebrate after the event.”
North Park’s Lynn Marie Morski, 38, is a physician and lawyer with many Sanders campaign credits. “I will be handing out flyers with my credentials at the election (there are no electioneering rules for the caucus),” she says, “while holding a sign and standing out front in my Bernie gear” at the Teamsters Local 542 caucus in Mission Gorge.
La Jolla’s Andrea Hahn is a local wildlife advocate who doesn’t plan on doing much aside from “posting my information and hoping for the best.” But she’s already reserved a hotel room in Philadelphia, “which is both affordable and refundable up to a certain date. Overall, I plan to get by on about $1,000. I’ll be miffed at myself if I don’t make this mark.”
Point Loma’s Heidi Salerno, 49, is a deputy state attorney general under Kamala Harris who shared a photo of her 9-year-old sign-carrying daughter, “a YUUGE Bernie supporter.” She’ll help mom stump at the Kearny Mesa caucus.
And the Republicans? Fifteen delegates from San Diego County districts will attend their July 18-21 convention in Cleveland. Local caucuses? No. You fill out a form and the presidential campaigns will call you. Maybe.
The 2016 election
WHAT: California caucuses to elect Sanders and Clinton delegates to the Democratic National Convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia
WHEN: Sunday, May 1
WHO: Any registered Democrat can vote for delegates in their congressional district. If you’re not a Democrat, you can sign up on the spot at caucus. Seventeen-year-olds can vote if they turn 18 on or before Nov. 8.
WHY: To ultimately decide how many delegates from each district will pledge to Clinton and Sanders in Philly. June 7 primary results for each district decide how Clinton and Sanders delegates are apportioned.
Registered Democrats in San Diego County: 450,084
Dems seeking to be Sanders delegates in San Diego County districts: 215
Dems seeking to be Clinton delegates in San Diego County districts: 192
Delegates at stake in San Diego County: 32 (including alternates)