Thousands of delegates and activists descended on downtown San Francisco this weekend for the California Democratic Party’s annual convention, where 14 of the 23 declared 2020 presidential hopefuls vying for the Democratic nomination were scheduled to address the convention attendees, including Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN). The supposed frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, was noticeably absent. The large array of candidates lining up in attendance is a good indication that California is carrying more pull in the 2020 race, after moving up its primary from June to March.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, however, was the first candidate to receive resounding “boo”s throughout his remarks Saturday afternoon.
In the middle of his speech, Hickenlooper warned his party against turning towards socialism and alienating so-called “moderate” voters.
“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” Hickenlooper implored as an immense crescendo of boos immediately filled the room with the crowd clamoring its strong dissent. As the jeering grew louder and threatened to drown him out, Hickenlooper added: “You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up reelecting the worst president in American history.”
Members of the audience began flashing their “Bernie 2020” signs as Hickenlooper unsuccessfully attempted to win the audience back by pledging to take on the crumbling National Rifle Association (NRA). Another attendee flipped the middle finger off at the former governor. Hickenlooper’s remarks continued to generate a chorus of prolonged, escalating boos as he moved to calling the progressive wing’s “Medicare for All” stance into question by regurgitating a well-worn misleading right-wing talking point that it would be improper for Democrats to “[remove] private insurance from over a hundred million Americans.” Instead, Hickenlooper declared his support for a public option as a compromise, then was abruptly forced to end his speech hastily as music began playing.
Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign had previewed the remarks hours before he spoke. A geologist and a brewer before entering politics, the former governor has repeatedly called on fellow Democrats to embrace and reform capitalism.
In a May op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he wrote that he was “running to save” the “only economic system that can support a strong middle class.”
“We’ve got to clearly show that we reject socialism,” Hickenlooper stressed. “We’ve got to do that because Republicans will try to make us into socialists even if we’re not. If we’re not willing to draw a bright line and say we’re not socialists, we could quite possibly reelect this president.”
In an interview, Hickenlooper ruminated that he had spoken “inartfully,” and that he did not mean to single out any of his opponents, though Sen. Bernie Sanders is the only self-identified “democratic socialist” seeking the White House.
Jonathan Tasini, a labor activist who endorsed Sanders in 2016 and published a book about the senator’s ideas, conjectured that Hickenlooper had effectively talked his way out of the 2020 race. “Every single presidential candidate who came into this hall was treated with respect,” he said. “He red-baited us and got down in the mud, and I think it finished him.”
Hickenlooper’s centrist allies evaluated the event differently though, speculating that the cold reception at a convention dominated by radical liberal activists would help distinguish the governor to moderate Democratic voters. Asked how the booing might play on Fox News, which has devoted hours of coverage to fearmongering over the rise of socialists inside the party, Hickenlooper surmised it would help.
“I think what it says is that we are having that discussion as Democrats, and my hope is that we will clearly say, a result of those broadcasts, that Democrats are not socialists,” he said.
It seems former Maryland Representative John Delaney did not attend Hickenlooper’s speech the previous day, as he was also relentlessly booed by convention attendees for a full minute on Sunday after denigrating the overwhelmingly popular “Medicare for All” legislation long championed by Sen. Sanders and progressive Democrats: “Medicare for All may sound good, but it’s actually not good policy nor is it good politics.”
Delaney, whose estimated net worth is reportedly around $232 million, attempted to backtrack by weakly conveying his support for universal health care, but was heckled mercilessly by attendees after appealing for a moderate, gradual approach.
“We should have universal health care, but it shouldn’t be a kind of health care that kicks 150 million Americans off their health care,” he said, immediately causing a loud uproar of jeers from a well-informed audience quick to reject his disingenuous and gaslighting smear attempt. “That’s not smart policy. I want everyone to have health care, but it’s got to be a plan that works for every American.”
Delaney, appearing unfazed by the booing crowd, added, “This is called the battle of ideas, my friends.”
In regards to the growing 2020 field, Delaney finds himself in the back of the pack for the Democratic nomination, despite being one of the earliest prominent Democrats to throw his hat into the presidential ring. He is suffering from a lack of name recognition, according to recent Morning Consult polling information, and the latest Real Clear Politics average has Delaney polling at 0.5 percent.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) blasted Delaney for his remarks that “Medicare for All” is “actually not good policy.” A freshman lawmaker who has championed the progressive policy, Ocasio-Cortez advised in a post on Twitter Sunday that it is time for Delaney to “sashay away.”