Los Angeles County Democrats have endorsed former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon over incumbent Jackie Lacey, intensifying what’s expected to be a hard-fought race to determine who will serve as the county’s top prosecutor beyond 2020.

Gascon, a former Los Angeles police officer who is seen as one of the most progressive prosecutors in the nation, won 79% of the party endorsement committee’s vote Tuesday night, party officials told the Los Angeles Times.

A number of protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter, who are often critical of Lacey, held up signs bashing the incumbent and broke out into shouts of “Bye, Jackie!” as the endorsement was announced.

“The fight starts here. We must stop the death penalty. We must stop caging our juveniles … we must stop fighting every reform effort,” Gascon said to a crowded room, the newspaper reported.

Lacey still boasts a litany of endorsements from powerful elected figures, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Burbank, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and four members of the county Board of Supervisors. She also has the backing of the unions that represent deputy district attorneys, rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers and county sheriff’s deputies, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who backed Lacey in a not-so-subtle swipe at Gascon.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Lacey highlighted those endorsements while claiming she had steered the office “toward a greater focus on getting treatment for those who suffer from mental illness, rather than incarceration.”

“Ultimately the endorsement I care the most about is the endorsement of the people of L.A. County,” she said.

Lacey did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, The Times reported. She also declined an offer to participate in the first public debate of the campaign season on Wednesday night at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. A campaign spokesman said she has a scheduling conflict.

Lacey has spent the last several months trying to establish her credibility as a progressive Democrat as she faces challenges from a number of candidates carving out platforms left of her own. But that mission hit a snag last week when she held a fundraiser organized by a firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign just days before county Democrats held their endorsement interviews.

Her campaign cut ties with the Pluvious Group on Friday after being informed by The Times of its past work on Trump’s behalf. On Sunday, the county party’s endorsement committee advised delegates to support Gascon.

The field in the March primary also narrowed Tuesday, as Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos announced his withdrawal from the race shortly after Gascon won the party’s endorsement. Ceballos, a veteran of the office, was the first to announce a challenge to Lacey and branded himself as a progressive alternative to his boss, but struggled to gain traction as rumors of Gascon’s candidacy swelled over the summer.

In a statement, he called on his supporters to vote Lacey out of office.

“At a time when we should be accepting of new ideas on criminal justice and jurisprudence, Jackie Lacey has continued to perpetuate the mass incarceration of our citizens,” Ceballos wrote. “Her refusal to address the racial and social inequalities that have for too long plagued our criminal justice system have destroyed the communities she has sworn to serve. And her refusal to hold public officials accountable for their actions and inaction is both glaring and indisputable.”

Former federal and state public defender Rachel Rossi remains in the race. The only candidate who does not come from a law enforcement background, Rossi has said she would implement reforms and diversionary programs that would help keep low-level offenders and mentally ill defendants out of the jail system.

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