State Democrats Gather in Sacramento

Calif. Democrats in celebratory mood at convention

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    California Democrats are meeting this weekend to celebrate their November election victories and look ahead to next year, when they hope to solidify their grip on state politics.

    While the annual convention in Sacramento comes during an off-cycle election year, it provides potential candidates for future office an opportunity to introduce themselves to the party's most die-hard members.

    The seats for secretary of state, state treasurer and state controller will be open next year, and several Democrats already have declared their candidacies. Two of the party's rising stars, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have prime speaking slots on Saturday.

    They are potential gubernatorial rivals. Harris garnered national attention last week when President Barack Obama, on a fundraising swing through California, called her the ``best-looking'' attorney general in the nation.

    He later apologized. Democrats last year won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the California Legislature for the first time in decades and picked up six congressional seats formerly held by Republicans that they will have to defend in 2014.

    In the 2010 elections, Democrats swept all eight statewide offices. Gov. Jerry Brown steered the successful campaign for Proposition 30 last fall, temporarily increasing the statewide sales tax and boosting income taxes on high-earners.

    That allowed him to close the state's multibillion-dollar deficit and present a budget he says is balanced.

    "We had a great election. And when I say `we' I mean you all. So let's hear it for you,'' State party Chairman John Burton told delegates at a reception Friday night. Brown is skipping the convention in favor of a trade mission to China.

    The governor, who turned 75 last weekend, is widely expected to run again next year and faces no serious Republican opposition yet.

    Tim Donnelly, a conservative state assemblyman from Twin Peaks, and former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a moderate who is out of favor in his own party, are the only two potential challengers who have publicly expressed interest. Burton, who is famous for his sharp tongue, used a crude term when asked by reporters about the prospect of a Maldonado run for governor, said he remembers Maldonado as the guy who "brought a truckload of broccoli in the Capitol garage during the heat of the summer and forgot to take it out. ... Stunk up the whole Capitol.''

    Maldonado did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press left Friday night.

    The Democratic meeting is a sharp contrast to last month's gathering of California Republicans in Sacramento, during which delegates lamented the party's recent election losses and falling statewide voter registration, now below 30 percent. The party elected Jim Brulte, a former state Senate minority leader, to take over in hopes of repairing its finances and political fortunes. Brulte cautioned Democrats not to get too confident.

    "They ought to get familiar with their Old Testament: Pride goeth before the fall,'' he said of Democrats. "Republicans understand that they took a shellacking in the last election, that's why Republicans in California are relatively united and we're going into every neighborhood to compete for every vote because we think California is too important to leave to one-party control.''

    He said the party has repaid around 40 percent of its debt and has roughly $300,000 in debt outstanding.

    Members of the national Republican Party have also been soul-searching amid a split over the direction of the party during meetings of the Republican National Committee this week in Los Angeles.

    Establishment and moderate Republicans generally advocate for the party to be more inclusive, while many conservatives and tea partyers insist the GOP adhere closely to its ideological principles at any cost.

    The RNC voted Friday in favor of a resolution reaffirming its opposition to gay marriage, in hopes of assuaging conservatives' concerns. In addition to Harris and Newsom, who are speaking Saturday at their party's convention, delegates will hear from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, billionaire venture capitalist and clean-energy supporter Tom Steyer, and comedian Will Durst. Pelosi will host a luncheon Saturday featuring five of the six members of Congress who ousted Republicans in November.

    Newsom is hosting a ``blue carpet'' party at a Sacramento nightclub Friday night.