Just as you would expect at this time of year, the sun is shining and the wind is blowing through the Mission District, a neighborhood in east-central San Francisco. A historically Latino neighborhood, the area has become a poster child for gentrification: Today, this is where you’ll find hipsters, yoga studios and expensive boutiques alongside traditional taquerias and community art and cultural institutions.
Liliana and her friend Carlos have set up shop just around the corner from an expensive Mexican restaurant. Their empanadas come straight from a tupperware container for the price of $3 (€2.70). When asked about politics, Liliana was unequivocal: “We need change” — but as a Mexican citizen, she is not allowed to vote.
Liliana also admits she’s not familiar with any of the candidates. Her daughter has US citizenship but “when we get to spend time together, we just want to enjoy it and not think about politics.”
Liliana and Carlos sell Empanadas in the Mission District of San Francisco
California’s new role
In the past, California held its primary elections in June, towards the end of a months-long Democratic primary race. That late in the game, the rest of the country had already made their decisions, leaving California to essentially rubber-stamp one of a few candidates. In 2017, though, that changed when the state moved its primary elections up to March. California, the most populous state in the US, will now play a key role in deciding who will wind up as the Democratic nominee.
A third of the total delegates are up for grabs on one day, and 415 in California alone, the highest number of all the states. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to secure the nomination in July. The votes on Super Tuesday will decide over 1,357 out of the total 3,979 delegates. Primary elections this Tuesday are also being held in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Utah, Maine, Vermont, American Samoa. Democrats abroad are also voting.
Read more: Super Tuesday – a ‘how to’ guide to the 2020 US primary elections
Californians are still getting used to their new role, said JoAnne Williams, who lives in the Mission District. After moving here from Harlem, New York, she said she was surprised by the lack of interest and civic engagement in San Francisco. “It’s a completely different culture, a completely different vibe, and it seems like folks are so in a bubble. I actually just had an internal debate with myself about whether to add a calendar invite for my team to at least make sure that everyone on my team was aware that we had a primary election on Tuesday.”
Williams works in the finance department of one of the big tech companies. She is planning on voting for Elizabeth Warren, she said. Among other things, Williams said she is impressed with Warren’s track record to protect consumers from big banks.
California is ‘feeling the Bern’
Warren is in third place and has earned only eight delegates so far. The Massachusetts senator is far behind front-runner Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, with 45 delegates, and Joe Biden, former vice president, with 15 delegates. Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, is leading after early contests.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, is only now officially entering the race. He could possibly steal a good amount of votes from Sanders and Biden. Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, will likely not earn any delegates, since candidates need more than 15% of votes to be considered.
Read more: Bernie Sanders has a clear lead in artist endorsements
The state of California leans Democratic, but outside of the liberal cities, there are plenty of conservatives. Orange County and Central Valley are home to a high number of lower-middle and working-class Americans. Those who are registered as a Democrat and are voting in the primary will most likely stick to the conservative candidates and could give Bloomberg — who is known to have supported plenty of Republicans in the past — a boost.
Who can beat Trump?
Bloomberg is definitely Harrison Tucker’s first choice. Tucker works for a sustainable real estate developer and moved to San Francisco from North Carolina. He says his family and friends could be convinced to vote for a Democrat in the presidential election, if it’s the right one.
“Nobody would vote for Warren or Sanders. They are anti-capitalist and want to increase regulations. People in North Carolina are worried these candidates would destroy the economy,” Tucker said. Like many others, Tucker is not voting for the candidate who represents his values best — he is betting on the one who can beat Trump.
Read more: Pete Buttigieg ends presidential campaign
Megan, a young white woman, has a different strategy. She is canvassing for a local progressive candidate. Local offices are on the ballot on Tuesday as well. Megan lives in San Francisco now but is still registered as a voter in Orange County. “My vote matters more over there,” she said — and her vote is going to Bernie Sanders, no question. “He cares about the environment the most,” she said, “and that’s important.”
Elections are not everything
Maurice may be registered as a voter, but he said he’s unfamiliar with primary elections and the candidates. He is sitting at the bar of Manny’s, a popular cafe in the Mission. Manny’s not only serves up good coffee and food — the owner also organizes political events and watch parties for the Democratic debates. Maurice is 25 years old and has been coming to Manny’s quite a bit lately. The young African-American man just attended a discussion about California’s voting system in the cafe’s back room.
Maurice had been planning on going to meet his friends, but he decided to come to Manny’s instead. Elections are not something he has thought about a lot in the past, Maurice said. “I’ll see it on social media but other than that it’s never a prominent topic people my age talk about. Nobody really cares to talk about it.”
Election paraphenalia in Manny’s cafe
Many of his friends simply have bigger problems than who is going to run for president, Maurice explained. They struggle to pay the bills, they use and sell drugs and have trouble finding good jobs. Over the last six months, nine of Maurice’s friends have died from shootings, suicide, or overdoses.
But for his part, Maurice wants to get involved in the political process. He signed up with some of the political groups that introduced their work today at the cafe. He is sick of corruption and hopes for a candidate that will fight for social justice.
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