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At California Democratic Convention, 2020 Candidates Seek To Woo Prized Voters

DON GONYEA, HOST:

This weekend, California is the epicenter of the Democratic race for president. Fourteen of the 23 declared candidates are in San Francisco speaking to the California Democratic Party's annual convention. It's a reflection of California's new role as an important early primary state.

NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is in San Francisco and joins us now from a noisy convention hall. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Don. Good to be back in a noisy convention hall.

GONYEA: Yes, so California is used to being ignored by candidates during the primary season because it voted so late. I've covered a lot of campaigns. I've never seen anything like what you're covering this weekend.

DETROW: Yeah, well, that's the difference between June and March, right? California moved up its primary. It used to be the very last state to go. Now it votes March 3, one of several states voting on that big national Super Tuesday early primary day. But California will have the biggest delegate haul of that day. It'll be a high-profile state. If you win it, you get a lot of momentum. And on top of all of that, most California voters vote early by mail. They will be starting to vote the day of the Iowa caucus. So campaigns are treating California as just as important as Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina.

GONYEA: So you're watching speech after speech after speech. Any big themes emerging so far?

DETROW: Yeah, it really gets to that debate the Democratic Party has been having for a few years now. Do we talk about Donald Trump? Do we focus on our own plans? You're seeing that split here with a lot more on the side of let's talk about Donald Trump. California Senator Kamala Harris spent the entirety of her speech talking about Trump, talking about how the party needs to bring a fight to him, ending with this line that got a lot of applause.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: We need to begin impeachment proceedings, and we need a new commander in chief.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: A lot of signs and calls for impeachment here today, including a couple heckles when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke. She's been hesitant to fully embrace that. But to take the different tactic, Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator, she argued for the need for big, bold policy proposals, the type she's been campaigning on. And she actually criticized candidates who talk about more modest policies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, here's the thing. When a candidate tells you about all the things that aren't possible, about how political calculations come first, about how you should settle for little bits and pieces instead of real change, they're telling you something important. They are telling you they will not fight for you.

DETROW: A lot of signs that Warren has been getting more momentum lately, and that includes the fact that she drew more than 6,000 people to a rally last night across the bay in Oakland, which, of course, is Kamala Harris's home city.

GONYEA: Indeed. OK, 14 candidates are there. Let's do the math. That leaves nine not there. Any notable absences?

DETROW: Absolutely. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who you could interpret that Warren line about incremental change and keeping the status quo, you could certainly interpret that to be her talking about the way that Biden is approaching this race. He is not taking the super progressive platform that many other candidates are. And I think that's part of the reason why he is avoiding this gathering of party activists and officials, who are often even more liberal than most California voters.

In fact, Joe Biden is in Ohio today. He's basing his appeal on winning back the Midwest, the states that gave Trump the White House. And there's a lot of symbolism there that Joe Biden is in Ohio instead of California. But I'll say this, even in this crowd here in San Francisco today, when you talk to voters about what's most important to them, a lot of them are still saying it's all about electability, who can beat Donald Trump. And that is what Joe Biden is banking voters will see him as.

GONYEA: That's NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow in San Francisco. Scott, thanks for joining.

DETROW: Thanks, Don. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.