In divorce-heavy California, breaking up isn’t so hard to do. For the DNC, the difficult step may be finding the perfect new partner.
So far during this campaign cycle, the Democratic Party has seemed determined to turn each debate venue into a mechanism for signaling its virtue and pandering to its key constituencies. October’s debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, was a nod to suburbanites. On Nov. 20, the candidates will joust on the Oprah Winfrey Sound Stage at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, an unsubtle attempt to court African Americans.
So which California venue would send the right messages to the right voters? The DNC could look to L.A.’s east side and the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. An institute “dedicated to the quest for social justice and equality of social justice” is certainly in keeping with the great Democratic tradition of promoting civil rights. Then again, Pat Brown last governed California nearly 53 years ago. A California Democrat who voted at age 18 for Brown the last time he ran — in 1966, when he lost to Ronald Reagan — turns 72 next year. This isn’t exactly the target audience for a party trying to juice millennial turnout.
Somewhere in San Francisco could be a better fit, given the city’s place at the forefront of progressive policy-making. Then again, tech-fueled gentrification and exorbitant housing prices mean that San Francisco might now have more dogs than children. And Journey’s “city by the bay” is notorious for having streets littered with discarded needles and human feces. As a friend once told me, this is “the only town in America where you worry about your dog stepping into human poop.” The DNC might want to think twice about highlighting what San Francisco’s progressivism has wrought.
Another possible destination would be California’s Central Valley. But frustration over environmental restrictions and water-conservation policy in this agriculture-heavy area make it the one part of the Golden State where officials and the Trump administration are, at times, on the same page. From the DNC’s perspective, that makes for lousy television.
At first glance, it would seem the Democrats have an easy solution to their California debate dilemma: Come north to Stanford University. It is true that Stanford alums Cory Booker and Julián Castro have yet to qualify for the December festivities. Still, Stanford is conveniently located between two major airports and is a gateway to the donor-rich Bay Area. It also knows how to fete Democrats, having shown then-president Barack Obama a warm welcome in 2016.
But Stanford is the capital of America’s insta-wealth culture that at least two 2020 contenders — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — seem to loathe. By one count, Silicon Valley is home to 74 billionaires, a 23 percent increase since 2016. That’s not an ideal place to sell sticking the uber-rich with ultra-millionaire taxes and the price tag for Medicare-for-all. On the positive side, this area lends itself to high-drama TV — as the audience waits in suspense to see whether Pacific Gas & Electric can keep the lights on for a three-hour debate.
Perhaps the DNC’s biggest challenge is one that would present itself at any venue in California: Are the candidates ready to endorse the work of their party brethren in Sacramento, where a Democratic governor and Democratic supermajorities in the legislature reign? What if the presidential aspirants have to weigh in on controversial Assembly Bill 5, which virtually bars Californians from working in the gig economy? Or bans on circus-performing animals and travel-size shampoo bottles, or a measure to delay school starting times, or Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suspension of the death penalty, or the legislature’s annual push to eliminate soda consumption? Will the candidates embrace the leadership of their fellow Democrats in California, and hope moderate voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin don’t notice?
Maybe the best solution would be for the 2020 field to skip California altogether. Sanders and Hillary Clinton never debated in the Golden State in 2016, and Clinton still walked away with more than 61 percent of the vote that November, winning those precious 55 electoral votes by a 4.3-million-vote margin.
Would California miss the Democrats? We could certainly use the tourism dollars, especially in Northern California’s fire-ravaged Wine Country. But six (or more) highly educated individuals passing time in California by sharing their mutual contempt for President Trump?
We’ve seen that show before.