In the most emotional moments of a Southern California presidential forum Saturday in which eight Democratic contenders mostly stuck to their talking points, a survivor of this week’s Santa Clarita high school shooting and the mother of a teenager killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival pressed the candidates to embrace tougher gun control laws.
Yvette Mojica, a 16-year-old student who said she thought she was going to die and texted her dad “I love you” when she heard gunshots ring out Thursday morning, asked Sen. Kamala Harris what she would do to “make sure that young people like me can go back to school without being afraid of being shot.”
Harris, walking across the Long Beach forum’s stage to touch Mojica on the shoulder, told her she was “fed up” with students having to fear gun violence in their schools and “it has to stop.”
She emphasized her plan for an executive order requiring universal background checks and banning the importation of assault weapons if Congress refused to pass gun control measures within her first 100 days in office.
“The criticism from some of my friends on the debate stage has been, what happens when a Republican comes in office?” Harris said. “You know what my response is to that? We’ll deal with that in eight years.”
Later in the forum, San Jose resident Lorena Pimentel — whose 13-year-old daughter Keyla was one of three people gunned down in Gilroy in July — asked New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker his stance on gun control.
“There will be nobody who goes to the White House from our party in our lifetime that has more of a sense of conviction on this issue,” Booker said, jumping back and forth between English and heavily accented Spanish. “I am tired of seeing the number one cause of death for black and brown children in this country is murder.”
“What happened in Santa Clarita is godawful, but every single day in America 100 people die from gun violence,” particularly in minority communities, Booker said, naming several people in his Newark, N.J., neighborhood who had been shot and killed.
Several other candidates also invoked the shooting at Saugus High School, about 50 miles north of the Long Beach Arena where the forum took place, in calling for stricter gun laws.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar blasted President Trump for “folding” to the National Rifle Association on support for universal background checks. “After what you just saw in Los Angeles, you know in your heart that this is wrong,” she said.
The forum, hosted by the California Democratic Party and the Spanish-language news channel Univision to coincide with this week’s state Democratic convention in Long Beach, gave candidates a chance to make their case to 5,000 party activists and California voters in the arena, along with Univision’s national audience.
Eight candidates participated in the forum, but the race’s frontrunners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, skipped the event, citing scheduling conflicts.
Several candidates were pressed by Univision anchor and moderator Jorge Ramos about former President Barack Obama’s history of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declared simply that it was a mistake, while Harris didn’t directly respond after Ramos asked her the question multiple times. She did point out that as California Attorney General, she objected to an Obama administration program that tried to get local law enforcement involved in assisting federal immigration authorities.
The wide-ranging forum also covered issues from foreign policy to social media. Sanders defended his decision to oppose the removal of former Bolivian president Evo Morales, who stepped down this week in the face of major protests after an election that international observers called tainted by fraud.
“At the end of the day, it was the military who intervened in that process and asked him to leave… in my view, that’s a coup,” Sanders said, adding that Morales did a “very good job” fighting poverty and “giving the indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before.”
That’s the opposite approach from the Trump administration, which has embraced Morales’ conservative successor — and even other Democrats have avoided voicing such full-throated support for a president who had pushed to extend term limits.
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who’s cultivated a devoted backing among tech employees, slammed Facebook over its policy allowing falsehoods in paid political ads.
“It’s time for Facebook to grow up,” Yang declared, saying the social media giant has refused “to take responsibility for the truth of political advertising on their platform.”
Yang said he supported the move by Twitter to ban most paid political ads, which the network says was designed to avoid letting candidates spread misinformation. “Twitter has it exactly right,” Yang said.
This weekend’s convention also marked one of the first campaign appearances by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who jumped into the race this week. While Patrick’s last-minute entry didn’t qualify him for the Univision forum, he addressed Democratic delegates earlier Saturday.
The former consulting executive tried to paint himself as someone who could bring the country together. He avoided getting booed by the liberal convention-goers, who have heckled centrist candidates at past conventions.
“I’m not talking about a moderate agenda — this is no time for a moderate agenda,” Patrick declared. “I’m talking about being woke while leaving room for the still waking.”
The Long Beach confab also provided an opportunity for several campaigns to roll out new California endorsements. Harris unveiled the support of the United Farm Workers, which represents thousands of agricultural workers in California and the west.
And Sanders won the backing of the National Nurses Union, the affiliate of the influential California Nurses Association, who have long been among his strongest backers, as well as the 34,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles.