California Democrats seek election-year momentum

Attorney General Jerry Brown, outgunned in the gubernatorial race by the personal wealth of Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, drew the loudest reaction from the delegates when he criticized them for waging a high-dollar campaign over the airwaves.

California Democrats

Illustration of the Democrats and Republican candidates

LOS ANGELES  _ Democrats facing a tough election year dared Republicans on Saturday to challenge them on issues from Wall Street regulations to health care reform, testing what they hope will be a winning message with most voters in the fall.

Democrats at the state party’s annual convention had a brash message at a time when polls show President Barack Obama’s popularity slipping and party candidates in tight races across the country: Bring it on.

“Democrats are for protecting the peoples’ interest; Republicans are protecting the special interests. Democrats are protecting consumers and small businesses on Main Street; Republicans are protecting big banks on Wall Street,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told nearly 2,000 cheering delegates inside the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“That is our fight,” Pelosi said.

With her re-election in doubt, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., urged Democrats to unite behind her candidacy with the excitement witnessed at tea party rallies around the nation.

“We passed health care reform and we should be proud of it, proud of it,” Boxer told supporters waving yellow “Boxer 2010” signs. “I need you to be excited, as excited as the tea party people are. Will you help me?”

Attorney General Jerry Brown, outgunned in the gubernatorial race by the personal wealth of Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, drew the loudest reaction from the delegates when he criticized them for waging a high-dollar campaign over the airwaves.

Instead of an advertising spending extravaganza, Brown said voters want to hear from the candidates directly about issues related to jobs, repairing the state’s perpetual budget deficit and cuts to public school and universities.

He called for a series of “honest, prime-time” three-way debates before the June 8 primary.

“Let’s hear the different ideas,” Brown said. “The key here, is this a democracy?”

The offer was intended in part to answer criticism that Brown has so far been a sluggish campaigner.

If the debates happen, they’ll be a two-man affair. Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner who is trailing Whitman in polls, was quick to accept the invitation. But Whitman’s campaign rejected the proposal after initially saying it was open to considering it.

Instead, her campaign said Brown should debate other Democrats who will appear on the June ballot.

Brown, a former two-term governor who has held a variety of offices during his 40-year career in California politics, from secretary of state to mayor of Oakland, faces only token opponents.

Whitman, a former eBay chief executive, has poured $59 million from her personal fortune into a campaign that could become the most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history. Much of the money has been used to blanket the airwaves with television and radio ads and pay for a stable of experienced political consultants.

Whitman and Poizner, a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, have debated previously, but it would be highly unusual to conduct a bipartisan debate before winners are selected in the primary.

With California mired in recession and facing record unemployment, Brown said all three leading candidates owe it to voters to stake out their positions and debate in public.

“These are not ordinary times,” he said. “We face an extraordinary crisis.”

Surveys show Brown and Boxer, who is seeking a fourth term, running about even with potential Republican challengers.

Just 18 months after Democrats flocked to the polls to support Obama’s candidacy, party leaders are clearly worried about the mood of voters. Incumbents are feeling voter wrath across the country, and California Democrats are likely to put two career politicians on the top of the ticket: Boxer has been in Washington for nearly three decades and Brown’s career in politics began in the 1960s.

The convention marks the start of the party’s effort to sell its vision to voters left angry by the bruising recession. Speakers portrayed Democratic efforts at the national level to reform health care, stimulate the economy and impose regulations on Wall Street as steps that will benefit the working class and middle-income Americans.

Party leaders proclaimed what is emerging as a central campaign strategy _ criticizing the top Republican candidates as wealthy corporate pawns who are out-of-touch with the needs of middle-class Californians.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened Saturday’s session with a full-throated endorsement of the party’s top candidates.

While Brown and Boxer face no serious opposition in the June primary, both have been subject to constant attacks by the Republicans vying to challenge them in November.

Villaraigosa sought to counter one of the Republicans’ attacks against Boxer, that she has accomplished little during her three terms in the Senate. He credited Boxer with bringing federal transportation dollars that will double the city’s rail system and create 166,000 construction jobs.

“It may be the most important Senate race in the country,” Villaraigosa said. “Now I can tell you she’s fought for us, and she needs us to fight for her.”

Villaraigosa said the party will go on offense: “Democrats, it’s game time.”

No Responses to “California Democrats seek election-year momentum”

  1. Irene says:

    I’m out of lgeuae here. Too much brain power on display!

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