The California Democratic Party Convention provided an opportunity for delegates and activists to project unity ahead of a high-stakes election year.
The weekend-long meeting turned out to be anything but that.
Democrats remained divided over the most crucial issues facing the party and the nation: the raging war between Israel and Hamas and a 2024 race in California in which three popular party members and congressional veterans hoped to win the seat they held by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. more than three decades.
The internal fissures reflected the national debate within the party that some believe could jeopardize President Biden’s re-election hopes and the balance of power in Congress.
The deadly Israeli invasion of Gaza following the Hamas attack on October 7 dominated the convention. Protesters angry about the war disrupted a Senate candidate forum Saturday afternoon and later stormed the Sacramento convention center, just blocks from the state Capitol, prompting the cancellation of official party events that night.
“An injustice to one is an injustice to all,” said delegate and attorney Magali Kincaid, who joined protesters who disrupted remarks by Senate candidates Reps. Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff, along with Lexi Reese. .
Kincaid, who supports Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakand) for Senate, joined a rally Saturday afternoon where protesters loudly chanted “Cease Fire,” briefly disrupting the Senate candidates . He said that he wanted to see “peace, not war” in Gaza and that any solution to what is happening with the hostages in Gaza should not involve more violence.
“We need to make sure we address genocide and colonization and that’s what I feel like we were doing,” Kincaid said.
The confrontation between delegates and protesters over the death and destruction in Israel and Gaza has especially angered young voters. Ameera Abouromeleh, an 18-year-old Palestinian American who joined the protest with six members of her family, including her 74-year-old grandfather who she said was born in Jerusalem, said she hopes to vote for the first time next anus. as a way to show solidarity with the families who remain in the West Bank.
“Even if you crush someone under the rubble, our voices will be heard more,” Abouromeleh said.
His grandfather Naff was less enamored of civil disobedience and was mainly content to support his grandchildren. He felt that the violence by both Israelis and Palestinians had gone too far and wanted there to be a lasting and sustainable solution to the conflict.
Abouromeleh wasn’t sure who to back in the Senate race, but in the presidential election she plans to vote for Cornel West, a progressive academic running as an independent. A recently released poll by NBC News showed that 70% of voters ages 18 to 34 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas. It came as her popularity dropped to 40%, the lowest level of her presidency.
The weekend’s events angered many Jewish delegates, some of whom said they felt harassed and unsafe at the convention. They criticized state Democratic Party leader Rusty Hicks for not doing enough to protect members and prevent disruptions. Andrew Lachman, president of Democrats for Israel in California and a Jewish delegate, said he had heard from more than a dozen people who were reluctant to attend the convention or did not attend because they were concerned about anti-Semitic confrontations.
Lachman said they were right to be concerned given what happened.
“Many were shocked by the violent and disturbing acts they witnessed,” Lachman said.
The division within the party could jeopardize the party’s success in the 2024 elections, Lachman said. Democrats will need the support of Jewish and Muslim voters in battleground states and congressional districts if they want to keep the White House and make legislative progress.
“We can’t win Michigan or Virginia without Muslim votes. You can’t win Nevada or Pennsylvania without the Jewish community,” Lachman said. “So anyone who thinks they can yell at someone else to get them out of the room is doing a disservice to the Democratic Party.”
On Sunday, California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks condemned the protesters’ behavior and said that “any delegate who actively participated in or helped promote those activities and events…will be held accountable.”
Saturday “concluded a series of events that left me deeply saddened and disappointed,” he added.
The most anticipated vote among party delegates over the weekend was for the 2024 California Senate race, in which Lee faces fellow Democrats Schiff of Burbank and Porter of Irvine. In 2018, the California Democratic Party sent a clear message when its members voted to endorse then-state legislator Kevin de León over Feinstein. This time, however, no candidate reached the 60% threshold needed to get the nod.
Lee won 41.5% of the delegates and Schiff came in second with 40.2%. Porter came in third with 16%.
Although Lee has fallen behind Schiff and Porter in recent opinion polls, his support among Democratic delegates reflects the strong loyalty he inspires among the party faithful, who tend to be more liberal than the general voting electorate. During Saturday’s forum, his supporters applauded when he reiterated his call for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza and cast the only vote against authorizing the use of military force that allowed the invasion of Iraq after the terrorist attack in 11 of September. attacks.
Basem Manneh, a Palestinian American from the Bay Area who supports Lee and is a delegate, said he was frustrated by the interruptions to the Senate floor. Broader pressure for a ceasefire and measures to help Lee were the “right way to approach solidarity,” he said. He spoke at the nighttime protest inside the building and felt there was little evidence that the disobedience was anything other than peaceful and constructive.
“I don’t see any of this as a message of hate.”
Manneh, who works at San Francisco International Airport, said both Porter and Schiff were very smart, but Lee has been in this job much longer.
“She’s the captain of the locker room,” Manneh said.
Brian Krohne, 41, who had campaigned for Porter in his congressional election, is supporting Lee in part because of Porter’s unwillingness to call for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.
Porter and Schiff have broadly supported Biden’s efforts to support Israel, while gently urging its leaders to be more aware of the loss of civilian life and think about what comes next in Gaza.
“I find it very disappointing that he’s on the wrong side of this,” Krohne said of Porter.
Hicks and other state party officials said the divided party was a reflection of the strength of the candidates and that these divisions would not hurt Democrats’ ability to unite next year.
Riverside County Party Chairwoman Joy Silver, a Jewish Palm Springs resident, said she never felt unsafe during Saturday’s protests, but was angry that they prevented party caucuses from being called, adding that they seemed “deeply “undemocratic.”
Divisions in the party were deep, he said, but they would not impede his work overseeing voter turnout in one of the most competitive parts of the state where Democrats are eager to regain a congressional seat and some Assembly seats. The county party had not endorsed her in the Senate race, but she was endorsing Schiff. She compared the split between Schiff and Lee to what the party experienced between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.
“I think the real divide here is between the head and the heart,” Silver said.
“Adam has more head and Barbara Lee has more heart.”