SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – 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.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a news conference to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2019” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo
Their presence lent star power to a lowly 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 passed 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, a native daughter 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.
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.
As 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, 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.
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.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents the San Francisco congressional district, also spoke to the convention.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Tim Reid; Editing by Paul Simao