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California Democrats to focus on middle-class appeal

LOS ANGELES (AP) – California Democrats gathering at their party’s annual convention this weekend want to answer conservatives who have criticized national health care reform and federal stimulus spending.

Democrats see those as accomplishments that actually will help them in November, showing voters they are the party representing the interests of the middle class. Party leaders also plan to take jabs at the leading Republican candidates for high-office as wealthy business people who are out of touch with the everyday concerns of Californians.

“We’re going to let the members know that it’s going to be up to us to show that the governor’s office and U.S. Senate office aren’t for sale to rich people,” California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said in an interview ahead of the weekend gathering in Los Angeles. “We’re going to have to go out and prove that people are more important than rich people writing their own checks.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is a billionaire, while her rival, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, is almost as wealthy. GOP U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is the former head of Hewlett-Packard Co. and received a $21 million severance package when she was terminated.

In California, the Democratic Party’s goal is to hold its majority position in the state’s congressional delegation and the state Capitol, even as Republicans mount a campaign to retain the governor’s seat.

This year, the GOP also has targeted Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, believing this is their best chance in years to unseat the three-term incumbent.

But Democrats have the numbers working in their favor. About 7.5 million voters, or 45 percent of the electorate, are registered Democrats, compared to 31 percent, or 5.2 million, Republicans. Roughly 3.4 million, or 20 percent, are decline-to-state voters and tend to be centrists who went for Democrats in the last presidential election.

“I think we’ll re-elect Barbara,” Burton said.

Unlike the crowded Republican primary field, veteran and incumbent politicians running at the top of the Democratic ticket are expected to headline the convention and cinch their party’s nomination in the June 8 primary.

Boxer, gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi do not face any serious primary challenges. All three are scheduled to speak to attendees Saturday morning.

Brown and Boxer have spent the campaign season raising money. Pelosi has been vilified by Republicans as an example of what they say is unchecked Democratic political power, but her re-election prospects seem almost certain. She’s from San Francisco, one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country.

The party faithful will try to help Brown, who turned 72 this year, land his second act as California governor. And Boxer is hoping the attacks from the Republican candidates who hope to challenge her in the fall will only energize her supporters.

“I have so many special interests who want me out of there. I have the right wing that wants me out of there, so you know, I know what I’m up against,” Boxer told The Associated Press in an interview this week. “I kind of look forward to it because it energizes me. I know who I am and why I’m here.”

Democrats also find themselves on the defensive in guarding congressional seats in swing districts. In addition to holding both of California’s U.S. Senate seats, Democrats currently hold 34 of its 53 seats in the House of Representatives.

Republicans have targeted Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who represents a district in which Republicans are a majority; Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, who faces a Republican challenger seeking to motivate the district’s growing Vietnamese population; and Jim Costa of Fresno and Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, who represent agriculture-dependent districts decimated by high unemployment.

McNerney and Cardoza were targeted before President Barack Obama signed national health care reform.

Burton said he believes Californians will recognize that the Democratic Party is trying to improve the lives of the working class and middle class. He said federal stimulus money also saved thousands of teaching and law enforcement jobs, while jump-starting construction projects.

“People are starting to understand that the health care plan was helping them, and it wasn’t taking away the health care they have now,” Burton said.

He said he believes voters will see through Whitman, who has given her campaign $59 million from her personal fortune. That has allowed her to blanket California’s airwaves for months with positive advertising.

Whitman has said she’s willing to spend $150 million in her quest for the governor’s office.

While the Democrats’ top races are largely uncontested, the competition for some lower-tier seats is fierce.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the gubernatorial race last year and became a late entry in the race for lieutenant governor, where he will take on Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. The race is expected to be close, with Newsom attracting the party’s most liberal supporters and Hahn getting strong support from labor groups.

In the race for attorney general, several state lawmakers are vying with San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and former Facebook executive Chris Kelly to replace Brown.


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