Democrats Regina Bateson and Roza Calderon make a last-second attempt to
block frontrunner Jessica Morse from getting the endorsement of state
Riding a wave of anti-Trump momentum following the 2016 election, three
female candidates in California’s fourth district-Jessica Morse, Regina
Bateson and Roza Calderon-rose to the top of the heap to challenge
incumbent Republican Congressman Tom McClintock. They each pledged to run a
positive campaign. Morse became the frontrunner. On February 22, the eve of
the California Democratic Party Convention, Bateson and Calderon formed an
alliance to deny Morse the crucial state party endorsement.
Following an article in The Sacramento Bee that slightly challenged Morse’s
claims regarding her employment with the federal government, Bateson and
Calderon signed a statement requesting that delegates vote “no endorsement” for their primary, writing that “new information is unfolding.” If the
nomination went ahead, they framed it as allowing “money and party elites
to dictate who we will ultimately see on the June ballot.”
Laura Lowell, the chair of the Calaveras County Democratic Party, speaking
for herself and not the party, called the move, a “sign of a failing
campaign when they fall back to tactics like this.”
She felt Bateson and Calderon’s efforts also damaged the prospect of a
Democratic victory against McClintock, who won 63 percent of the vote in
But forget beating McClintock. In a heavily Republican district,
fragmentation among Democrats could prevent them from even running against
him as, in California, the top two vote-getters from the June primary,
regardless of party, square off against each other in November for the
congressional seat. Morse felt that consolidation was key to victory.
“We’re at the convention trying to get an endorsement because the path to
victory is clear, but it’s narrow,” she said. “And we need to be able to
get the resources and the energy consolidated against McClintock. We can’t
wait until June.”
Maia Pelleg, an advisor to Bateson’s campaign, said their campaign felt the
endorsement process was “premature” and would deprive the district’s voters
of a fair chance to support the candidate of their choosing. She also noted
the nearly 21 percent of district four voters who registered under “no
party preference,” a share only eight percent lower than those registered
as Democrats. These unaffiliated voters will likely be crucial in the
general election and may not be swayed by the state party’s endorsement.
“If Democrats endorse a particular candidate, they basically deprive the
overwhelming majority of voters from the opportunity to decide which two
candidates should face off in November,” Pelleg said. “An endorsement
process is not the most practical way of determining who has the best
chance of defeating McClintock in the fall.”
Pelleg felt confident that a Democrat would still be on the ballot in
November and claimed the Bateson campaign would still ask delegates for “no
endorsement” even if the campaign expected to win the endorsement as “this
is a position that’s evolved for us as we’ve been on the ground.”
Research shows an endorsement can boost a candidate’s share of the vote by
seven to 15 points, according to a forthcoming paper in Political Research
Quarterly. And Lowell, a Morse-supporting delegate, took issue with the way
that she was characterized by Calderon and Bateson’s statement.
“The people who are here at the convention are grassroots activists,” she
said. “These are not party elites. These are people who volunteer their
time, who come to the convention on their own money and let me tell you, it
is not cheap. These are not people with a lot of money. These are people
who care passionately about the party and state and are willing to do the
In the Bee article, retired US Navy Captain Dave Cutter was used as a
source, but in a following Medium post, Cutter wrote the “article, while
technically accurate, attempts to minimize and dilute Jessica Morse’s
work.” A former boss of Morse, Cutter went into greater detail, giving
Morse extensive credit for her work, calling her “the adviser who rewrote
the India strategy” for the US Pacific Command after that claim had been
brought into question by the Bee article.
Morse called the quotes in the Bee article one-off misspeakings
cherry-picked from the countless speeches she’s given as a
candidate-mistakes like saying “the” instead of “an” or misstating that she
“rewrote the entire U.S.-India Defense Strategy using renewable
technology,” when she meant to say “the entire U.S.-India Defense Strategy
that I wrote used renewable technology.”
Pelleg said the Bee article “raised questions” and “it’s important that
these backgrounds are evaluated.” But in regard to the joint statement’s
claim that “new information is unfolding,” Pelleg said, “We don’t have any
information that we’re coming out with. We’re trying to focus on a positive
campaign here and focus on Regina’s issues and positions.”
Morse felt this turn in the race was a distraction from the issues as she
had hoped to use this week to highlight Republican declarations that more
guns are needed in schools following the shooting in Parkland, Florida on
February 14. As someone who spent a year in Iraq, Morse said that isn’t a
“I’ve lived in a world where everybody’s armed and it’s called a war zone,” she said. “It’s not safer.”
Joanne Neft is a prominent political figure in District 4 who said she’s a
moderate Republican, but helped prior McClintock challenger, Charlie Brown.
She’s been active in politics for decades in the district, but this is the
first race she hasn’t paid much attention to as she was grieving for her
husband who recently passed away. As a result, she said she would
“probably” throw her support behind whoever the Democratic party endorsed.
“The majority of people don’t know [the candidates],” she said. “All
they’re voting for when the time comes is a D or a R.”
Neft thought that Calderon has been “disruptive and distracting,” but that
both Morse and Bateson were nearly equivalent candidates. She wished they
had joined forces in one campaign against McClintock, who has been seen as
vulnerable due to his lockstep support of Trump and his failure to put
forth legislation that made a meaningful difference in his district.
McClintock has also penned 20 opinion pieces for the far-right media
platform Breitbart, which aggregated the Bee’s reporting.
Contrary to Neft’s hopes, Bateson instead joined forces with Calderon, a
candidate that has faced allegations of embezzling funds from the Placer
Women Democrats (although Calderon later returned the money); carrying on a
secret affair with the leader of an ostensibly impartial political group;
and accepting an improper campaign contribution from Jerome Naidoo, CEO of
a social media company, SayBubble.
Pelleg clarified that Bateson and Calderon’s partnership applies only to “a
shared view about this specific [endorsement] process.” She declined to
comment on the campaign’s stance regarding the Bee and SN&R’s
reporting, beyond saying that she believed people should decide for
themselves what they make of the information.
“The reporting’s out there,” she said. “And people can make a determination
as to how that weighs into their calculations for how they evaluate a
candidate. Let people decide what matters to them or not. And you know
what? Maybe none of it does matter to any of them.”
Lowell said that for the last two weeks, Bateson’s campaign has made a
“ridiculous amount of phone calls to delegates,” which only entrenched
their support for Morse. Lowell applauded Morse for sticking to her promise
to run a positive campaign, seeing it as a sign that she’d keep promises as
a Congressional representative. But for now, the intra-party bickering has
brought back the familiar refrain that Democrats can’t get their act
together to beat even unpopular Republicans.
“This kind of behavior undermines the entire process,” Lowell said. “It
just makes people look at the Democratic party and scratch their heads.
Like, what are you guys thinking?”
Morse said she was open to working with Bateson and Calderon who she felt
“honored” to run alongside. But she still felt good about her chances of
getting endorsed because she said 200 people came to the opening of her
office in the district and President Barack Obama’s deputy national
security advisor, Ben Rhodes has already endorsed her.
“Our community knows me,” Morse said. “Because we have built a campaign on
integrity, people can see that and see through anything that’s
misrepresenting who I am.”
Pelleg said in the past, all three candidates had pledged to drop out of
the race if the state party endorsed one, but couldn’t confirm if Bateson’s
position had “changed after meeting so many people across the district.” Both McClintock and Calderon didn’t respond to comment from SN&R in
time for publication.
One positive for the Democrats came a day before Calderon and Bateson’s
statement. Flip the 14, a statewide organization focused on defeating all
14 Republican members of Congress in California, and the Sacramento Central
Labor Council, AFL-CIO which consists of over 100 labor unions in Northern
California, announced a strategic partnership to defeat McClintock.
Who they end up supporting, depends on who California’s Democratic
delegates choose to side with today: Calderon and Bateson, or Morse.