BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

Published: 12 February 2012 08:25 AM

SAN DIEGO — Longtime Rep. Joe Baca narrowly failed Saturday to get the official support of the California Democratic Party in an increasingly bitter race against state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod in the Inland area’s redrawn 35th Congressional District.

In another endorsement fight, last-minute lobbying by Senate leaders failed to keep local party delegates from endorsing former Inland lawmaker Steve Clute for Riverside County’s 31st state Senate District, a seat viewed as a key legislative battleground this fall. It was a rebuff to state Senate Democrats and their preferred candidate, Riverside attorney Richard Roth.

And in San Bernardino County’s 47th Assembly District, newspaper publisher Cheryl Brown and Rialto Councilman Joe Baca Jr. — Rep. Baca’s son — received the exact same level of delegate votes, meaning no party endorsement.

Saturday’s endorsement sessions offered some drama after a day of speeches from party leaders such as Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein touting Democrats’ chances this year.

For years, party endorsements’ main value has been bragging rights. But this weekend’s endorsements could carry added significance because of the state’s new political lines and the June debut of California’s top-two primary.

Candidates endorsed by the party will get that designation in voters’ sample ballots, potentially giving them an edge among committed Democratic voters.

INTRA-PARTY TENSION

The enmity between supporters of Baca and Negrete McLeod was apparent after a tense caucus vote at the San Diego Convention Center that included dueling allegations of fraud and bogus signatures on ballots, creating the outside chance of a floor fight today.

Baca, who has been in Congress more than a decade, called the outcome disappointing and criticized Negrete McLeod for her brief remarks to delegates.

“We don’t need someone in Congress who’s going to be dodging bullets,” he said.

Negrete McLeod said she had a cold. “Those people are disrespectful,” she said. “His people are going to vote for him, my people are going to vote for me.”

The primary contest in the redrawn 35th Congressional District, centered in urban San Bernardino County, is the stiffest political challenge Baca has faced in his congressional career and revived the years-long tension between the Baca camp and people aligned with Negrete McLeod and others in the region.

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