I hate to write this.
God, I fucking hate to write this.
But tonight, it feels like we pretty much threw away the 48th.
If this sounds hyperbolic, it’s not. If this sounds alarmist, it’s not.
For the past year or so, Crazy Dana (aka: me—Jeff Pearlman) has followed this race closely. I’ve blogged about it. I’ve dug into the candidates. I’ve studied the demographics. I’ve analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of Dana Rohrabacher, the longtime incumbent who has never been more vulnerable. I have thought about this election more than I’ve ever thought about any other political endeavor. Why? Because politics is entirely local, and while we—the residents of California’s 48th Congressional District—have little say in the outcome of presidential politics, we have (potentially) tons of say in regards to who represents us in Washington. And that say—that very specific say—gives us an awful lot of power. Because the Republicans are (wisely) scratching and clawing to save themselves from what could be a crushing nationwide November setback. And the 48th is right there for Democrats. It’s a piñata dangling from a string …
In case you missed this, earlier tonight at the Democratic state party convention in San Diego, the local party caucus voted to endorse Hans Keirstead, the noted neuroscientist, as its preferred candidate to take on Rohrabacher. Here is how the final tally went …
Now, on the one hand, this was hardly a surprise. First, last month Keirstead received 65 percent of delegate support in the party’s pre-endorsement conferences (it’s confusing. Read here for a better explanation on these things). Second, as Crazy Dana has reported repeatedly over the past months, the Democratic Party (local and national) determined long ago that Keirstead was its man. First, because he is said to have plenty of money on hand, and could conceivably make up the inevitable financial advantages held by Dana and the GOP. Second, because he seemed to check off all the boxes. Smart—check. Accomplished—check. Relatively telegenic—check. Well spoken—check. Third, because he was an established name in the community. Fourth, because he seemed ready to play the game. Or something like that.
So, again, every candidate I’ve spoken to for this site has acknowledged (in one way or another) that to overcome Keirstead would be to overcome (in a sense) the oft-debilitating death grip of political machinery. I’m pretty sure Bernie Sanders would have said the same thing leading up to the 2016 Democratic Primary.
Anyhow, it’s a truly messed-up system, because after nonstop months of grinding, handshaking, pleading, begging, promising, urging—you (the candidate) are pretty much hostage to the whims of 38 delegates (generally unknown political activists elected at the party level—read here for more) and their leanings. That’s why, before the vote tonight, the five other Democratic candidates in attendance (Michael Kotick, Laura Oatman, Rachel Payne, Harley Rounda and Omar Siddiqui) all stood in unison in front of the room and requested that the 38 delegates support a no-endorsement. Because they knew—in regards to Hans—this was all painfully fishy. There’s a reason he’s the overwhelming choice … but no one who has seen him perform has the slightest idea as to why. I actually reached out to Rouda tonight, and he was still seething over the process. “Every one of the five who stood have something to offer,” he said. “We’ve all worked hard. And for it to come down to this …”
The thought went unfinished, but I’ll take a stab …
... is bullshit.
I can’t disagree. In an earlier post I wrote about those I think can win, and those I think can’t. Topping my list of those who can’t win is—to be blunt—Hans Keirstead. Call me crazy, call me wacko, call me Ron Guidry, but if I’m Dana Rohrabacher, right now I’m thrilled at the prospect of running against a Canadian-born scientist with minimal (to be polite) charisma, a strange voting record and an inability to project empathy. I’m not saying (I need to emphasize this) that Hans isn’t empathetic. Or that he’s even a bad guy. But politics is showbiz, and Keirstead is as wooden a candidate as I’ve seen in some time. It. Just. Doesn’t. Feel. Real. Or. Passionate. Or meaningful. And that matters. Like, really matters.
Anyhow, things got really weird after the vote. There’s an odd-yet-well-known rule whereas one can temporarily table an endorsement of an opponent if he/she can collect 300 signatures from the 1,000-plus delegates in attendance at the convention (geography be damned). So Rouda did what you do in this world—he went after the autographs.
Then, this happened …
In California, Democrat @HarleyRouda (Rohrabacher) walks collecting signatures from convention delegates as Democrat @drhanskeirstead has assigned a member of his team to tell delegates not to sign his petition. Wait until the very end…Democrats don’t do this. #CADem2018 pic.twitter.com/KPE31aT0or
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) February 25, 2018
What bothers me most, as a Democrat, as a District 48 denizen, as Crazy Dana—is the nastiness of it all. We like to think of Republicans as the bad guys, right? They’re the ones who behave in untoward manners; the ones who fix elections and plot redistricting and restrict minority voting. Yet here—despite myriad debates that have (unambiguously) left people feeling uneasy about Hans; despite Hans placing last in a recent straw poll; despite Rouda raising the most money of the candidates; despite Oatman and Payne and Siddiqui landing key endorsements from different groups—24 people decided (after being wooed and sweet talked, no doubt) that our flattest candidate should be propped up as our biggest hope.
And now, we (the people) are neutered dogs. Can Harley or Laura (the two leading opponents at this point) still pull out a victory? Sure. But with the local party caucus endorsement, Hans Keirstead receives a huge boost. First, he can brag about the endorsement—no small thing. Second, the state party will send out mailings on his behalf. Mailing after mailing after mailing. It’s not merely huge. It’s enormous.
Don’t misread what just happened. Don’t try and be falsely optimistic.
Your voice—my voice—has been ignored by the Democratic Party. And if you’re not asking yourself (even just a little), “Why did I bother?” … well, you’re not human.