Composite photo of Assemblymember Evan Low and former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo
Assemblymember Evan Low and former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo will both be on the November 2024 ballot, running for Congressional District 16.

After losing his party’s endorsement by a single vote, congressional candidate Sam Liccardo is taking aim at the California Democratic Party.

A lifelong Democrat, Liccardo didn’t mince words criticizing the party’s process and accusing leaders of hijacking votes on Tuesday to endorse his opponent, Assemblymember Evan Low. He criticized Low’s connections in elite Democratic circles and the powerful forces at the state party.

The California Democratic Party doles out endorsements after a majority vote by appointed or elected delegates across the state. Low added 27 delegates to the district for a total of 58 votes, according to a breakdown of the vote obtained by San José Spotlight.

But the former San Jose mayor says he had “more than enough” votes to block Low’s endorsement, claiming his rival rallied the base and shifted delegates to support him.

“The Low campaign became desperate, moving slots for delegates allocated elsewhere in California into the 16th district — essentially, ‘packing’ the vote,” Liccardo wrote in an email obtained by San José Spotlight. The email was sent from his personal Gmail account to supporters.

A screenshot of congressional candidate Sam Liccardo’s email criticizing the California Democratic Party after it endorsed his opponent.

“By Monday morning, in the final two hours of balloting, the Low campaign frantically injected a 27th ‘new’ delegate into the 16th District,” he continued. “They prevailed by a single vote.”

Meghan Fraley, a delegate from Assembly District 23, said she voted to make no endorsement because she wasn’t yet confident in either Liccardo or Low. But she agreed that the ability of delegates to vote for candidates in areas they don’t live in opens the door for political insider dominance.

“I think that it’s not really an Evan issue — to some degree it’s a party process issue because the rules allow this,” Fraley told San José Spotlight. “The process has enabled this to be an election that’s more influenced by maneuvering than people that actually live in the district.”

A crowd of people watching election results come in on election night
Assemblymember Evan Low, who is running for the Silicon Valley Congressional District 16 seat, at the South Bay Labor Council election night party on March 5, 2024. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Low’s campaign responded on Wednesday saying the endorsement process is well documented.

“Our party endorsement process is clearly laid out. Evan Low has spent decades of service in our Democratic Party as past president of the Silicon Valley LGBT Democratic Club and longtime volunteer registering voters at farmers markets, outside naturalization ceremonies and college campuses,” campaign spokesperson Clay Volino told San José Spotlight. “The same commitment to our Democratic Party cannot be said about Evan’s opponent, Sam Liccardo, who is sewing doubt in the Democratic process because Democrats rejected him.”

Santa Clara County Democratic Party Chair Bill James said Liccardo’s gripe is with the outcome of the endorsement process than with the process itself.

“It is a normal and regular part of the process to whip votes and gather your delegates,” James told San José Spotlight, adding the Liccardo campaign engaged in the same strategy. “Both campaigns were trying to get their delegates, tried to make sure their delegates voted and tried to make sure their delegates voted in the way that they wanted.”

Despite not gaining the endorsement, a Liccardo campaign spokesperson said the candidate thanked the Democratic Party and local delegates who participated in the election.

“We look forward to continued engagement with the local activists and stakeholders working to build a stronger Democratic Party to defeat extremism and build a broad coalition,” spokesperson Gil Rubenstein told San José Spotlight.

In the email, Liccardo called out two political insiders for their role in the alleged scheme — consultant and former San Jose Chamber of Commerce official Eddie Truong and Anil Babbar, senior vice president of local public affairs for the California Apartment Association. He said the two men are “hardly core Democratic stakeholders.”

Babbar could not be reached for comment.

Former Mayor Sam Liccardo celebrates his early lead in the Congressional District 16 race at a watch party on March 5, 2024. File photo.

Liccardo added that the apartment association, which heavily lobbies for landlords, has spent heavily in support of Low. San José Spotlight previously reported that the landlord group supported Low’s campaign through a super PAC called the “Golden State Leadership Fund.”

The state association, however, endorsed Liccardo’s run for mayor and backed many of his politically-aligned colleagues and policy proposals.

“The voters of District 16 deserve a Democratic member of Congress that is tolerant and inclusive. Evan has lived up to that standard, and Sam has proven that he is not due to his baseless attacks,” Truong told San José Spotlight. “That is why I voted Evan Low for Congress.”

It comes after the county Democratic Party formally demanded the disclosure of donors behind a shadowy super PAC paying for the Congressional District 16 recount, which knocked Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian out of an unprecedented tie with Low earlier this month.

Liccardo faces a federal election complaint alleging his campaign coordinated a dark money effort to fund the recount, knock one of the candidates out and help his prospects in November.

Despite losing the California Democratic Party endorsement, Liccardo is working to cut into Low’s progressive, union-backed base. This month he scored a noteworthy win by landing a significant labor endorsement in Silicon Valley.

Low’s been a loyal labor candidate his entire political career, securing significant support from the region’s most powerful public unions. But the Laborer’s International Union of North America — or LiUNA — broke from the pack and endorsed Liccardo instead.

Enrique Arguello, a leader with LiUNA Local 270, acknowledged Liccardo had to make “tough calls” as mayor, but called him a champion for working families. The endorsement raises questions about whether Liccardo can wrangle additional labor support from Low.

LiUNA isn’t a typical labor organization, and has a history of breaking from other South Bay unions. The group in 2014 supported former East San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco over labor favorite Xavier Campos, the incumbent in that race. Carrasco defeated him that year.

Liccardo said Low’s support from the state Democratic Party is a no-brainer because of his support from party leaders. He tried to convince the party to skip endorsements in his race and instead focus its “scarce” resources on bigger blue-on-red battles.

“Surely, as we reassess our party’s endorsement process, we can do better,” he wrote. “Regardless, you showed the powerful insiders — and our community — that you won’t accept any foregone conclusions. Not in this election, nor in any other.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter. Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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