Fourteen Democratic presidential candidates sparked cheers and applause in the streets of San Francisco on Saturday as they worked the crowds at the California party’s state convention, a sign of the state’s heft in upcoming nominating contests.
Their presence lent star power to a state organizing convention that has become a window into the issues and rivalries at stake as Democrats compete for the nomination to run against Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.
“Oh my God, is that Bernie Sanders?” a young woman yelled as she walked past the tousle-haired progressive icon, who was taking selfies with admirers after addressing a union group.
Following an evening of parties including one emceed by a drag performer in the LGBTQ-friendly city, presidential hopefuls including Sanders and fellow U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar addressed members of the Service Employees International Union before heading into the main convention hall, where more than a dozen were set to speak to the party faithful Saturday and Sunday.
Harris, who has been eclipsed in early polling in California by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders, made clear she was not taking her home state for granted.
Supporters with signs bearing her name and shouting “Kamala! Kamala!” formed a gauntlet outside of the SEIU event that Sanders was forced to walk through.
“I am here to earn everyone’s support, and I’m going to fight to earn it,” she said at a breakfast held by the party’s women’s caucus.
Despite Harris’ clear organizational clout, however, it was U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren who drew the greatest cheers from the progressive crowd on Saturday, far more than Harris or former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Sanders is scheduled to speak on Sunday.
To screams and whoops, Warren called for universal free preschool and childcare, forgiveness of student loan debt, free college and a wealth tax on the highest earners.
“That’s two cents on the dollar for people with fortunes worth more than $50 million,” Warren declared in an old-school political speaking style that swelled for emphasis as she reached each talking point. “They can afford two cents.”
Notably absent from the event was Biden. As the convention opened on Saturday morning, his aides moved among reporters in the press area with glossy handouts featuring the former vice president’s picture.
Biden leads in early polling in the state, but opted not to attend the convention, a move experts said could make him seem above the fray, but could also be risky if Californians come to see him as taking the state for granted.
In perhaps a sign of the campaign to come, however, the Biden handout led with a swipe at Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who polls second behind Biden among Democrats.
A moderate, Biden appeared to be staking a position to the right of Sanders.
“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders,” Biden says in the handout, adding that unlike Sanders he does not blame billionaires for the country’s problems. “The folks at the top aren’t bad guys,” the statement said.
It was a message that might have been out of place at a convention where Sanders and Warren were greeted like rock stars. Other attendees emphasized their left-leaning positions, with Harris taking on Trump and demanding the House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against him.
“We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander in chief,” she cried.
When U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who represents San Francisco, vowed to “investigate and litigate to protect our democracy,” yells of “impeach!” broke out in the convention hall. Pelosi has so far resisted Democratic calls to impeach Trump over actions many say were illegal, including possible obstruction of justice in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power.
The convention opened with a moment of silence for the 12 victims of a gunman in Virginia Beach on Friday, the latest mass shooting in the nation.
“We absolutely insist on common-sense gun laws to end this epidemic of gun violence,” Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom told the crowd of 5,000 delegates, guests and press.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Tim Reid; Editing by Paul Simao and Chris Reese