Candidate Hans Keirstead outscored five opponents vying to become the Democratic Party standard bearer in congressional District 48 to win the endorsement of a majority of party delegates at its annual convention in San Diego.
Keirstead, a stem cell scientist from Laguna Beach, received 63 percent of 69 votes cast on Sunday, Feb. 25, a distinction that will give him coveted visibility on mailings by the state and county Democratic Party in the coastal district that spans Seal Beach to Laguna Beach. According to party rules, a 60 percent threshold is necessary to win the endorsement at the convention.
Voter awareness of the candidates trying to unseat 30-year incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican of Costa Mesa, could play a significant role in the outcome of the race, complicated by an unusually large pack of contenders and the district’s voter registration, which favors the GOP.
In a last-ditch plea before the delegates at the convention, Democratic candidates Harley Rouda, Rachel Payne, Michael Kottick, Laura Oatman and Omar Siddiqui all urged them to cast votes for “no endorsement.”
Rouda, a former real estate entrepreneur also from Laguna Beach, remains the campaign’s fundraising front-runner. He also won a straw poll as the strongest candidate at a recent forum. His campaign has issued statements and ads that have criticized the Democratic Party’s selection of delegates and its endorsement process for attempting to winnow the field before voters make their own decision about candidates in the June primary.
Among delegates in District 48, eight cast votes for no endorsement, which was followed by three votes for Oatman, two for Rouda, one for Payne and none for Kotick and Saddiqui.
Rouda campaign manager Michael McLaughlin said the vote reflected that some supporters “agreed with us.”
Yet, some longtime activists fear no Democrat will be among the top two vote getters in the June primary if Democrats continue to battle between themselves for the attention of voters. “If ‘no endorsement’ had won, it would give all the candidates a reason to stay in the race,” said Diane Valentino, a Keirstead supporter and Democratic activist in Laguna Beach since 1988, who went to the convention as an observer.
“The endorsement process has never been an issue because we’ve always only had one candidate,” Valentino said. “This time, it’s very important; we can’t divide the vote.”
Valentino took umbrage at Rouda for “demonizing” delegates to a political party he only joined last year.
Oatman supporter and delegate Judie Mancuso agreed that a Rouda ad portraying delegates as making “backroom deals” did some damage. It “may have turned people off with that message,” she said. “We’re normal folks.”
For Keirstead, the party endorsement is welcome, but will not affect the candidate’s campaign strategy, said spokesman Kyle Quinn Quesada. “It doesn’t change the race. Hans is not going to call on anyone to get out of the race.”
The public can hear from the candidates themselves next week at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at a forum on immigration and foreign policy at the UC Irvine Student Center.
The event will also be live streamed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRpxBEC8sBs.