The California Democratic Party has just become a little bit more undemocratic. New rules quietly enacted by the Party give Democratic incumbents for state and federal office the automatic endorsement of the Party. While in the past an incumbent would get the Party’s endorsement if he received just 70% of the votes at a pre-convention endorsement caucus or 50%+1 of the votes at the convention, incumbents will now be automatically endorsed unless 20% of all delegates from the district to file an objection. This is harder than it sounds. While delegates may punish a bad incumbent by voting for someone else, voting for no endorsement or not voting at all, filing an actual objection to the endorsement of someone who is already sitting in office, and who therefore enjoys a significant amount of political power, is not for the faint of heart. It also means that in races where the incumbent doesn’t have a challenger to organize an objection signature drive, even unpopular incumbents will receive the party’s endorsement.
This year in Alameda county, all but one of the incumbents will be receiving the party’s automatic endorsement. The exception is Congressman Mike Honda who is facing a tough re-election fight from former Obama administration official Ro Khanna. Honda has been hurt by an ethics investigation and has lost the support of several prominent Democratic politicians. Regardless of who wins the Party endorsement, it seems likely that Khanna will unseat Honda in the fall.
While it’s understandable that the Democratic party would want to solidify its support behind incumbents, a policy that benefits the establishment against what may be more popular challengers runs the risk of further damaging the party’s own standing before voters – and the weight of the party’s endorsement. Indeed, while just two or three election cycles ago, the vast majority of candidates endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic party were elected, that number fell to about 50% in the 2014 election. Part of the reason, I believe, is that too many of the party’s endorsements are based on personal relations and politicking rather than on the personal qualifications and progressive ideology of the actual candidates.