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Jostling begins to lead California Democrats, as 2020 looms

December 20, 2018

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The political jostling started Thursday in the contest to lead the California Democratic Party, as the state is emerging as a potentially important player in the 2020 presidential contest.

Liberal activist Kimberly Ellis said in a statement she would seek the party’s top job, after nearly capturing the post last year. Her announcement comes about a month after the former chair stepped down amid a swirl of sexual misconduct allegations, leaving the party in turmoil.

In a statement, Ellis said the party needs a leader to heal and unify state Democrats, and she’s ready to welcome presidential candidates to the heavily Democratic state and set the vision for what the party can achieve.

Democrats dominate California government. The party strengthened its position in the November elections, including seizing four Republican-held congressional seats in the one-time GOP stronghold of Orange County. Democrats hold every statewide office and control both chambers of the Legislature by wide margins.

But the party was jolted later that month when party chair Eric Bauman stepped down after facing public accusations of sexual misconduct.

Ellis, who was narrowly defeated by Bauman last year, said she would “reform the tone, tenor and culture of the California Democratic Party and rebuild the trust that has been broken.”

A replacement is expected to be selected in May. The election will come at a time of transition for the party: Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom takes over next year, replacing fellow Democrat Jerry Brown.

Newsom has not endorsed a candidate for the top party post.

California moved its presidential primary to March 2020, making the state an important early target for what is expected to be a large field of Democratic candidates. It’s possible that group could include one or more Californians who are considering entering the race, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

State party activists have moved further to the political left in the age of President Donald Trump, a shift that has highlighted the long-running split between the party establishment and its restless liberal wing.

The deep split in the party was witnessed in the 2016 presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It played out again in the 2017 contest to lead the state party, in which longtime party insider Bauman defeated Ellis, the liberal favorite.

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