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As Dem Elites Question Biden, Fresno Delegates Support President
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 2 weeks ago on
July 10, 2024

Fresno-area delegates to the DNC are sticking with President Biden. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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While Democratic Party leaders and elected officials debate whether Joe Biden should remain the Democratic presidential nominee, Fresno-area rank-and-file delegates are standing by their man.

GV Wire spoke with several local delegates who will represent California at the Democratic National Convention that will be held Aug. 19-22 at Chicago’s United Center. They are not dissuaded by Biden’s June 27 debate performance and subsequent chatter.

“Obviously, he didn’t have a good outing, right?” delegate Ruben Zarate of Fresno said. Zarate is also chair of the Fresno County Democratic Party. “I think he’s going to be fine. I believe that the consensus amongst most Democrats from the large majority is that he will be our guy.”

Eric Payne of Fresno said that despite Biden’s problems, he is better than the Republican alternative.

“Donald Trump is a convicted criminal, and a con man. And I don’t think that our value system as a country aligns with the direction he has taken our country,” said Payne, executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute.

Latisha Harris, a union representative for the Fresno Teachers Association from Clovis, said she “absolutely” supports Biden.

Zarate, Payne, and Harris are three of 496 California delegates to the DNC. They are pledged to support Biden by virtue of his March 5 primary victory in California.

Are Delegates Obligated to Support Biden?

“I think he’s going to be fine. I believe that the consensus amongst most Democrats from the large majority is that he will be our guy.”Fresno County Democratic Party chair Ruben Zarate

However, delegates could deviate their vote from the convention floor, said longtime consultant and party supporter Doug Kessler, a delegate from Selma. The consequences, Kessler said, would be more political than legal — as in abandonment of any future support.

Kessler said that Biden should remain on the ticket.

Estella Kessler, wife of Doug Kessler, said she would vote for Biden even if he was on his death bed.  She is a convention veteran, having served as a delegate in 2012 and 2016.

She is a retired educational professional and current Selma Unified School Board member. She says this will be her last convention as a delegate.

“Since I can and I was chosen, I’m going to give it this last go around,” she said.

Spouses Estella and Doug Kessler will be delegates to the DNC. (Kessler family)

If Not Biden, Who?

“If something changes, which I don’t expect it to be a deviation from that, I’m still a Harris delegate at the end of the day.”Delegate Eric Payne

Support is starting to come around for Biden, with several top Democrats publicly supporting the president.

“Some of these people just, you know, have their opinions and, I think at the end of the day, I believe that they will end up supporting Biden,” Zarate said.

Zarate said he likes Michelle Obama but says it would not be right to run her as a candidate.

Payne would be prepared to support Vice President Kamala Harris as the next candidate.

“If something changes, which I don’t expect it to be a deviation from that, I’m still a Harris delegate at the end of the day,” Payne said.

Doug Kessler said the party needs to boost Harris more.

“We did a very poor job of making Kamala presidential. I think it’s happening now. I think it’s happening faster than I thought it was. And I think that’s a lot of the problem that people, including myself, weren’t sure of her abilities,” Kessler said.

Kessler said he is “not a Harris person” per se. When Harris ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, Kessler ran the campaign of her opponent, fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez. He said that party leaders from other states reached out, urging Kessler to switch away from Biden.

How California Delegates Are Chosen

An estimated 4,532 delegates will attend the convention in Chicago, including 496 from California.

The state has different levels of delegates. A majority, 277, are selected from the state’s 52 Congressional districts. These delegates are pledged to the winner of the California primary. Biden won with 89%.

Not all districts have an equal amount of delegates, ranging between four and seven. They are distributed by “total population and to the average vote of the Democratic Candidates in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections” according to state party documents.

Of the five Fresno-area Congressional districts, only one has more than the four-delegate minimum — Congressional District 5, currently represented by Tom McClintock, R-Roseville — has five delegates.

District-level delegates are chosen by party members at local conventions held in the spring. There are also party rules mandating a near-equal delegation of “self-identified” females and males.

In the Congressional District 21 delegation — represented by Jim Costa, D-Fresno — Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias failed to convince his party brethren to choose him. He finished third among six males running. Payne and Doug Kessler earned the two top spots.

Other delegate categories include 92 at-large selections — pledged delegates chosen from a statewide pool; 55 party leaders and elected officials; and 72 unpledged “automatic” delegates, once known as “super delegates.”

California’s 72 automatic delegates include 30 members who are on the national committee (and which include four Congressional members), Vice President Harris, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler, the remaining 36 House members, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and any “distinguished party leader.”

The 55 delegates in the party leaders/elected officials class include (in priority order according to state party rules): nine “Big City” mayors, eight statewide elected officials, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, Senate President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire, and members from the state Assembly and Senate.

The office of Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, said she will not be a delegate.

At the convention, the presidential nominee needs a majority of the pledged delegates — approximately 1,895 — to win on the first ballot. “Automatic” delegates do not vote in the first round. They will join in on the second ballot if no candidate receives a majority.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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