Presidential candidates descending on San Francisco as state Democratic convention kicks off – California

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SAN FRANCISCO — Presidential hopefuls began arriving in the Bay Area for the California Democratic Party convention Friday, giving Golden State Democrats a front-row seat to the crowded and competitive primary race.

Fourteen presidential contenders — the biggest concentration of White House hopefuls so far in the race — will make their case to 3,400 Democratic delegates from around the state this weekend at Moscone Convention Center. All of the major candidates will be present, except former Vice President Joe Biden.

California’s convention has always been an attractive destination for Democratic presidential hopefuls. In April 2007, seven of the eight candidates — including then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — walked the halls at the party confab in San Diego. (Once again, Biden was the only candidate to skip it.)

But this year’s stampede of candidates is on a completely different scale. In part, that’s a sign of California’s newfound significance in next year’s primary race: Golden State voters will go to the polls on Mar. 3, along with other Super Tuesday states and just after the traditional four early states. And mail-in ballots will be sent out on Feb. 3, the same day Iowans caucus.

With nearly 500 delegates up for grabs, California will be the largest prize in the country. And while polls have shown Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the lead, with home-state Sen. Kamala Harris in third, the state’s delegates will be awarded proportionally based on Congressional district — so even candidates who make a mark only in certain corners of the state have the chance to pick up some delegates.

At the convention, each hopeful will get about seven minutes each to speak at the general session Saturday and Sunday, and many are also filling their schedules with other events and fundraisers around the Bay Area.

On Friday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former housing secretary Julián Castro will meet delegates at caucus meetings, Sen. Kamala Harris will headline a Planned Parenthood party, Sen. Elizabeth will hold a town hall at Laney College in Oakland, and Sanders and East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell will appear at a late-night LGBT reception.

Meanwhile, instead of hobnobbing with the delegates, Biden — the race’s frontrunner — is headed to Columbus, Ohio, to headline a dinner for an LGBT rights group on Saturday night. That makes the former Vice President the only top Democratic candidate to skip the convention.

The acting state party chair, Alex Gallardo-Rooker, said Friday that Biden had called her to say that despite his absence at the convention, “he will be here many times” in months to come.

“He wanted to be here but he is being pulled all over the place,” Gallardo-Rooker said, saying Biden had previously committed to speak at the Ohio dinner.

The candidates will also be competing for attention with a competitive race for state party chair, who will help shape Democrats’ strategy in the Golden State leading up to 2020.

Richmond activist Kimberly Ellis, Los Angeles labor leader Rusty Hicks and Santa Barbara party official Daraka Larimore-Hall are considered the top candidates facing off to replace former chair Eric Bauman, who resigned last year amid sexual harassment allegations. Ellis narrowly lost the last chair’s race to Bauman in 2017. Delegates will vote Saturday with a run-off likely Sunday morning.

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