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Orange County’s four Republican-held Congressional Districts that are targeted by the national Democratic Party failed to get clear Democratic endorsement recommendations for any of the numerous candidates, leaving it to next month’s state convention to help narrow the field of candidates heading into the June primaries.

“We can’t tell somebody, ‘don’t run, get out,’” said Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Fran Sdao, who said this year’s pre-endorsement conference was more challenging than previous years because of the number of Democratic candidates in each of the four districts.

Candidates had to receive the backing of 70  percent of the conference votes to win a recommendation. In districts where at least one candidate received more than 50 percent but less than 70 percent of the votes, it’s up to the state convention to choose who to endorse. Districts where none of the candidates received 50 percent of the votes won’t have any candidate endorsed by the state party.

The state convention in San Diego next month will have to consider all of  the candidates from three of the four Orange County congressional districts. Only one Orange County district, the 39th in north county, failed to have any of its candidates receive more than 50 percent of the votes and advance to the state convention. That means none of the eight Democratic candidates in that district will receive an endorsement from the California Democratic Party.

“It’s dead. It doesn’t come to the floor in convention, it doesn’t go anywhere. So none of those candidates will be able to put the logo (on campaign material) that says they’re endorsed by the state party,” Sdao said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Only three of the state’s 53 Congressional Districts, including the 39th, will not be considered for endorsements at the state convention.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who is the 39th’s longtime incumbent, announced earlier this month he will not seek reelection. The 39th district consists of the most northern portion of Orange County from parts of Buena Park, Placentia and Anaheim Hills and contains all of Yorba Linda, Brea, La Habra and Fullerton while reaching north to parts of neighboring Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Nationwide, Democrats in November need to win 24 congressional seats now held by Republicans to gain control of the House.

Democratic delegates vote in regional endorsement caucus on Jan. 28 at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center. Credit: NORBERTO SANTANA, JR., Voice of OC

On Saturday Jan. 27, Democratic club representatives, central committee members, county party members and delegates met in what’s known as pre-endorsement conferences to vote on endorsement recommendations for the 45th, 48th and 49th districts. Those recommendations usually mean a state endorsement.

Since no one garnered enough votes for a recommendation in any of the three districts, all candidates still will be fighting for an endorsement at the state convention next month. Delegates will have to decide on an endorsement for one candidate per district.

Only five Congressional Districts statewide failed to garner the 70 percent endorsement recommendations for a candidate, leaving it up to the convention delegates to decide on endorsements.  

“All those candidates names will be back in play during the caucus meeting,” Sdao said, who made clear that even without the endorsements, the candidates still can run. “We don’t want that to happen, but it may happen.”

California uses a top-two primary system, meaning the top two vote-getters in the June primary will advance to November’s general election, regardless of political party.

Democratic volunteers work to count votes in regional endorsement caucus on Jan. 28 at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center. Credit: NORBERTO SANTANA, JR., Voice of OC

The Democrats fear their voters could be splintered because of the large number of candidates in each field, which could allow two Republicans to advance to November’s ballot. There are eight Democratic candidates so far in the central OC 45th district, eight in the coastal 48th and five in the south county 49th.

“The worst thing that can happen is the Republicans make it in the top two,” Sdao said.

The same week Royce made his abrupt announcement, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista)  announced he also won’t be seeking reelection. Issa represents the 49th District, which touches the most southern cities in the county, including San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente. The 49th stretches down the west side of San Diego county, ending before La Jolla. The district also houses Camp Pendleton.

Following on the heels of Royce and Issa’s announcements, a number of Republicans announced their candidacies. For the 39th, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, former Assemblywoman Young Kim and former State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff announced their candidacies.

Meanwhile, Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and political newcomer Joshua Schoonover — all Republicans — launched their bids for the 49th Congressional District seat.

Since the Democrats won’t ask a candidate to drop out of the race, Sdao said they’ll try to get them to see the bigger picture.

“All we can do is appeal to their sense of doing the right thing and that these races … are amongst the most important races ever. This is more than just about a person, this is more than just about Orange County. This is about the United States of America,” Sdao said.

She said candidates will need to ask themselves if they have a true shot of winning or not, so the Democratic vote isn’t splintered in the four competitive districts.

“You have to take the high road and ask if your campaign is truly viable. And what we are risking by having candidates who don’t have a clear viable path stay in the race.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.

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