SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> California Democrats had tough words for Republican President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress today as they continued their three-day convention with renewed optimism about their party’s chances of tipping the balance of power in the U.S. House.
The party’s elected leaders presented California as the epicenter of liberal resistance to Trump, urging fired-up activists to work against the 14 Republicans in the state’s 53-member congressional delegation and aggressively attacking the president.
“The world, literally the world, is counting on all of you, counting on California to reject Trump’s deception and destructiveness,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is among a crowded field of Democrats running for governor next year.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, often mentioned as a potential candidate for president in 2020, accused Trump of putting “Russia first, America second.”
“Democrats, we need to keep up the fight and recognize that when our nation’s very sovereignty is under attack … This is wrong, and we need the truth,” Harris said.
The convention comes less than a week after the U.S. Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during last year’s election — a charge Trump has vehemently denied and called a “witch hunt.”
Outgoing party Chair John Burton, a longtime Democratic lawmaker and powerbroker known for his blunt and profane manner, extended two middle fingers in the air as the crowd cheered and joined him.
“F—- Donald Trump,” he said.
The attacks on Trump united and enthused Democratic activists, who repeatedly stood to applaud. But beneath the surface, the party activists are deeply split, still struggling to mend the divisions that exploded in last year’s primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The divide was on clear display in the race to replace Burton as party chair. It has highlighted strong disagreements between longtime party activists and a new breed of progressives eager for new party leadership that will more aggressively promote liberal priorities and reject money from corporate and establishment interests.
While both major candidates for party chair endorsed Clinton’s presidential bid, Sanders supporters have rallied around Kimberly Ellis, the former head of an organization that works to elect Democratic women to office.
Ellis has called for new blood in the party. She faces longtime Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman, the state party’s vice chair, who says the party needs a steady hand to continue its dominance in California politics.
Bauman has lined up the support from the vast majority of elected Democrats and was the overwhelming favorite to win until agitators loyal to Sanders, including the influential California Nurses Association, surged Ellis’ support.
Bauman has come under pressure for work his political consulting firm has done for corporate clients. Pharmaceutical companies paid the firm to work in opposition to a ballot measure that would have prohibited the state from paying more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The measure, which Sanders supported and campaign for, failed after drug companies spent more than $100 million in opposition.
The work has touched a nerve with many Democratic activists a time when some of the party’s biggest stars, including Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are focused on curtailing the role of money in politics and the power of corporations.
The race took a strange turn earlier this month when Bauman sent an email to delegates saying he had been the target of salacious rumors alleging he had inappropriate contact with teenage boys. The source of the rumors was unclear, and Ellis denounced them.