The kids at Sacramento’s Rio American High School will long remember this prom night. You see, there was this group of grown-ups who kept hustling back and forth through their photo line last night at the Sacramento Convention Center, and one of them was state Treasurer and erstwhile Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Phil Angelides.
Angelides had just won the expected endorsement of the California Democratic Party convention for his now uphill campaign against ex-eBay honcho-turned-state Controller Steve Westly. And through various quirks and changes in scheduling, he ended up holding his press conference accepting the endorsement in the part of the convention center where the high school prom was taking place.
So the mostly sober-for-the-moment high school boys in their rented tuxedoed finery and the teased-hair high school girls in their flashy dresses had to endure groups of journalists and campaign operatives hurrying back and forth between the party banquet and the press conference location before the candidate — who lives three miles away and was not at the banquet — finally drove over to proclaim his victory.
There at the press conference site, a hallway location just down the way from the convention center conference room where the treasurer kicked off his weekend adventure with a Young Democrats rally, Angelides and his screaming blue-shirted backers were giddier than the prom-going high schoolers just 50 yards away. It was as though they had just won the Super Bowl and were headed for Disneyland. Indeed, Angelides seized on a sports metaphor to declare what a difference maker he thinks this event is for his campaign.
“To me,” declared the treasurer, and former state Democratic chairman, “this was the first game of the play-offs. A lot of teams can do well in the regular season, but the real winners come forward in the play-offs.” The Los Angeles Times poll showing rival Westly with large leads over both himself and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had just been published that morning.
Angelides then launched into a litany of his endorsements: U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, none of whom were campaigning for him at the convention, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was campaigning hard for him, and a host of unions.
Referring to himself, Angelides noted that “A lot of teams make it into the play-offs with mediocre records. I’m still the underdog. But I’m willing to go to the mat for people.”
Asked about the history of the state party endorsement, which went to then state Attorney General John Van de Kamp in 1990 over then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein before Feinstein won a big primary victory, Angelides slammed Westly by saying: “Steve Westly’s no Dianne Feinstein. She’s for me.”
Yet he acknowledged that he trails by substantial margins in private and public polling. (Indeed, his highly respected pollster, Paul Maslin, is not present at the convention.)
Taking another shot at the new frontrunner, Angelides said: “I’m not in this like Steve Westly because the polls look good.”
I predicted in my Friday morning column and in a Thursday morning item that the treasurer would win the state party convention endorsement. It helps to have been to a couple dozen of these state Democratic conventions, as I have. The endorsement has usually not meant much in Democratic primary elections, either for governor or for other statewide offices. This doesn’t stop activists from fighting over it. The convention will adopt a state party platform later today. Most politicians, much less voters, will pay little attention to it.
However the primary turns out for Angelides, one thing is for sure. He gave the kids at last night’s Rio Americano High School Prom a memory for a lifetime.