SD7: Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson

The cynics say the reward of vigorously vying to be the choice of the statewide Democratic Party merely amounts for the privilege of placing a graphical badge on their Website and subsequent mailers.

But for the two most anticipated primary races in the East Bay, the party’s exclusive endorsement may be the difference between winning and losing, but also a guide for where influential donors and independent expenditures committees place their bets from here to November.

Going into Saturday’s Alameda County Democratic Party pre-endorsement meeting, uncertainty remains over the local leadership’s choice in the likely intraparty Ninth State Senate race between former Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson and the Rep. Mike Honda-Ro Khanna rematch in the 17th Congressional District.

CA17: Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna

Past loyalties and pressure from surrogates attached to all four campaigns is making it difficult for party delegates to decide their votes come Saturday.

Beginning with the state senate race, the sheer number of early big-name Democratic Party endorsements for Swanson campaign would, in most instances, would translate to his campaign getting the nod. However, the stated support for Swanson coming from popular incumbents like Rep, Barbara Lee, Assemblymember Rob Bonta and current office holder State Sen. Loni Hancock is not translating to early widespread enthusiasm elsewhere.

There are indications Swanson’s forthcoming campaign finance report will match last summer’s rather lackluster mid-year tally. In fact, the long shot candidacy of Piedmont Democrat Katherine Welch may have outraised Swanson during the last six months of last year, according to sources. Such an outcome is giving some Democratic operatives reason to pause whether Swanson can overcome Skinner prohibitive war chest, which opened with more than $925,000. Swanson reported just over $80,000 in cash last July.

But here’s where self-interested Swanson supporters like Bonta and Lee may lean hard on delegates to back the long-time Oakland and Alameda representative. For this group, past political favors may be called in for Swanson. The anxiety will follow for some because there is growing consensus that Skinner, not Swanson is the best candidate.

Meanwhile, in the 17th Congressional District, Khanna has been able in recent weeks to limit Honda’s ability to gain once perfunctory support among Silicon Valley Democratic clubs. For Khanna, even a no-endorsement is a major victory for his campaign. The same scenario exists for Khanna at the pre-endorsement meeting where even blocking Honda’s ability to win the backing will be a major headline. Honda could still cobble together support for the endorsement and the statewide convention next month, but the blow to his campaign might remain through the June primary.

Last week, Khanna said his campaign had succeeded in getting enough support among pre-endorsement voters add the race to Saturday’s agenda. The key for Honda among open-minded pre-endorsement voters may simply come down to how well he articulates his case this Saturday.

Those who witnessed Honda’s speech earlier this month to the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale say it was inspiring, classic Honda. However, other appearances have been uneven, including last week’s forum at the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club where Honda appeared sullen, distracted and often pondered simple questions like “Why are you best candidate?” with long pauses.

Khanna’s inroads with grassroots groups appear to growing and the margin between Honda winning the pre-endorsement and losing is shrinking. Another performance from Honda devoid of passion might be the difference. It may also be moment where Democratic donors shut off the spigot of money flowing towards Honda.