Local Democrat groups hesitate to endorse congressional candidates

Protesters march to the corner of Centre Pointe Parkway and Golden Valley Road on Monday, May 8, 2017 to voice their concerns over Congressman Steve Knight's vote in favor of the American Health Care Act, which passed the House of Representatives last week. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

While local Democrats are having continuous conversations about the 2018 congressional election, many groups are being cautious about selecting a candidate to endorse.

In fact, none of the major Santa Clarita Democrat or progressive organizations have formally endorsed one of the three candidates who have announced their plans to run against incumbent Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale).

Of the most active Santa Clarita groups, including CA25 United for Progress, WIN to Lead, the Santa Clarita Valley Young Democrats, the Democratic Alliance for Action and Indivisible Santa Clarita, none have decided which candidate to endorse, if any, according to Young Democrats President Andrew Taban.

Standing united

The goal in holding off on endorsements is an effort to create unity within the party instead of becoming divided, Taban said.

“A united Democrat front is a good strong way to a very hopeful victory,” Taban said.

The Young Democrats will wait at least until the filing period closes for candidates before making deciding whether to endorse one, Taban said.

While current candidates Katie Hill, Bryan Caforio and Jess Phoenix all bring variety to the race, they are all proponent of social justice, equality and economic reform, Taban said.

“We cannot wait to have an elected official who we’ve worked with and who understands the district and its constituents,” he said. “Any of those candidates would better represent us than Steve Knight.”

Many of the groups have gotten to know all three candidates at various events they’ve held, including fundraisers, cocktail parties and rallies.

Members of the groups feel like they know the candidates on a personal level since they interact so frequently, Taban said, which makes choosing one more difficult.

Practicing caution

In the 2016 election cycle, many of the groups endorsed Democrat Lou Vince, who lost in the primary to Bryan Caforio. After his loss, Vince endorsed Knight.

Local activist and Santa Clarita city council candidate Logan Smith said Vince’s endorsement of Knight in the last election felt like betrayal to many of the constituents who endorsed him.

“That was a tough pill for a lot of us to swallow,” Smith said. “It’s fair to say there’s a lot of caution now.”

Smith is a member of Democratic Alliance for Action, Vice President of the Santa Clarita Valley Young Democrats, a board member of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley and is on the Legislative Committee of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Also taking into consideration that other candidates may announce later on, Smith sees it best to hold off on making a public endorsement. Though he admits he is leaning toward one of the candidates, he is keeping who that is under wraps for the time being.

“It’s healthy for Democrats to have a primary without tipping the scales,” he said. “It helps us choose the best candidate.”

Waiting longer allows the candidates to fully flesh out their platforms as well, according to Smith.

For example, Smith cites that supporting Medicare for all was not an emphasis in Caforio’s last campaign, but has been this time around.

Though, Smith said he has a positive relationship with all three of them and said he knows he can text message any of them at any time and get a speedy response.

Being on several of the groups’ boards has forced Smith to look critically at his own views because he knows they hold some weight with community members, he said.

“You have to judge whether you’re going to gush over a candidate or give a more measured response,” he said. “My first instinct is to tell someone which candidate I want if they ask. You have to temper your fire. I have a responsibility not just to someone who is asking, but to the candidates for a fair process.”

Taking their time

CA25 United for Progress, a progressive group, is not chartered under the Democratic party, though many of their ideologies overlap. This means they could technically endorse someone from any party when the time comes.

Nicolette Auyong Munoz, communications director for 25UP, said the 130 members of the group want to be well educated on all the candidates prior to making any endorsements.

They are familiarizing themselves with all three through their summer social series, which invites one of the candidates for dinner and drinks each month to mingle with group members.

In between meeting with candidates, the group is holding rallies and protests in opposition of the sitting congressional member and the votes he makes, specifically regarding health care.

“There really isn’t a rush,” Munoz said. “We have our hands full with all the things Steve Knight is doing.”

While the group has not chosen anyone, Munoz said she is already favoring one of the candidates but likes the others, too. 25UP will most likely support whoever wins the primaries, Munoz said.

“Pretty much our group will be aligning behind whoever the nominee is, I’m pretty sure,” she said.

As a rule, WIN to Lead does not endorse candidates at all, according to copresident Michelle Kampbell. This is in an effort to keep good relationships with other Democratic organizations so the group can provide them with logistical support, she said.

The group is happy with all three of the candidates as options, Kampbell said.

This tactic to not yet select a candidate has not carried over to elections at the state level.
Many members of Democrat groups have formally endorsed Christy Smith for Assembly.

For the Young Democrats, who endorsed Smith in the last election as well, many members had worked or volunteered on Smith’s campaign. Various members of Democratic Alliance for Action, 25UP, Democratic Party of the SFV and WIN to Lead have endorsed Smith as well, though not formally as a group.

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