Sunday, January 16, 2005

Falcons 47, Rams 17

Wait till next year!

I visit DNC caucus, pretend to be important

This post has been already diaried on Daily Kos, but I did tell the person at the Missouri Democratic Party that I had my own blog.
Because the caucus switched hotels in the middle of the night, I reached the Airport Marriott at 9:10 am and did not find out that the caucus was at the Hilton until 11 am. (The room was booked for Democrats at 10 am on the meeting screen.) I got to the Hilton at 11:30, in time for the end of the reading of the rules changes but not in time to have breakfast with Dean or Rosenberg. I visited the hospitality suites of Webb, Roemer, and Fowler. I also shook Howard Dean's hand! This was at the end of the forum. I was surprised at the very strong handshake, since he did not know me from a hole in the wall.
The 7 candidates gave opening statements of four minutes, then took questions from the audience. Audience questions fell into the categories of how the candidates would handle the state party chair proposals, how they would encourage diversity. how they would work with the state parties, and two oddballs: how would the DNC counter Bush's appearance in Collinsville, IL to push medical malpractice reform, and what would the candidates do about the primary schedule? (Ahem)
I will give impressions candidate by candidate.
Howard Dean Loudest cheering and applause. Answers are absolutely what we want to hear. In his opening statement, he said that you gain power by giving it away, and by trust. He talked about the West County Democrats who were formed by one activist who was inspired by him--his strongest suit is that he can inspire. He also mentioned that the Democratic constituencies such as labor will be involved in making decisions. Great cheer line: "No more talking points from DC". Another great cheer line: "I'm a doctor, and Bush's malpractice reform plan is a fraud. What we need is insurance reform and finally universal health care". (Only candidate to mention health care!) Line with good applause: "Let's have one set of knockers on doors, not the Democrats, the League of Conservation Voters, ACT etc." He also said that you have to keep running people and backing people, and not be afraid to lose, all the way up to the "county clerk that will count votes, secretary of state, etc." He mentioned his experience as DGA chair, where Democratic governors were elected in the South. Dean is not for regional primaries. He is for as many people getting a chance to vote as possible and not necessarily wrapping up everything by March. (Where did this strategy get us again?) Dean gave the best answer to the question of designing programs for women: he had a female chief of staff; women should design the programs; Democrats are naturally a female-friendly party, and women in red states should not be written off. I am impressed with the energy and intelligence of these answers as I type them.
Donnie Fowler Comes off extremely well in campaign literature, as if has good idea for every Democratic Party problem. Emphasized (also in "interview") that he is the person who has actually been on the ground in 14 states and understands the states'problems. (He was the national Gore field director) Excellent line: "Media is not grass roots. Media is the air war." Also, "Local people know better". Against "aristocracy of consultants" (hear, hear!) Against tired memes of going left/going right, going North/going South. Very articulate. Believes that the party needs a strategy of benchmarking for the state parties and decentralizing the DNC structure and a strategy for redistricting and ballot initiatives. (Well, the redistricting part was obvious.) He supported the ASDC proposal "plus". Fowler is delighted at how progressive young voters are and would give them a role along with the other party constituencies. He also said that state and county parties should have the organizing ability that labor used to have. He emphasized his successes in reaching out to women and religious voters in Michigan and in recruiting diverse delegates in 2000. Fowler is impressed by the educational experience of doing retail politics in Iowa. He suggests a system of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Arizona/New Mexico early to have regional representation without losing the small state experience.
Martin Frost His campaign literature made a much stronger case for him than he did in person. After reading it, I put him in the middle of the pack. The strong points were that he has won in Texas; he has worked to recruit Democrats in Texas; he has worked with the state party; he has headed the DCCC and gained 14 net seats; he is very competitive. Frost considers civil rights, abortion, labor, defense, and faith credentials to be key Democratic values. He thinks that economic issues will bring social conservatives into the party. He will relate to states by letting the state parties keep some of the DNC money, sharing fundraising lists, committing financial resources early, consulting with the state parties about who to hire, encouraging state party plans, and visiting every state. He has worked with southern districts with African-American swing voters to turn them around and has recruited young people. The DNC should be "in the Republicans' face every single day". Frost is waiting for the party commission to make recommendations on the primary schedule.
Danny Leland Came across as nice guy. Has run Ohio Democratic Party and Project Vote, which registered over a million minority voters. Is interested in DCAN, Democratic Community Action Network, where the Democratic Party takes more of a community organizing role and is more involved in listening to people. DCAN can be used to groom candidates. He broke the fundraising record in his state party chair position, and recruited young people, minorities, and women. He came out in favor of more caucuses and fewer primaries, because caucuses help build the party and primaries attract "driveby Democrats" who go to vote for 15 minutes. I thought this was his best point, but the person next to me said that it doesn't matter what the structure is if there's no competition.
Tim Roemer Did not come off well. Had three themes: Democrats should not attack each other by litmus testing ("that's what Karl Rove wants us to do"), Democrats should focus on winning elections, and Democrats can win by focusing on economic issues. He mentioned his 9/11 commission experience, his red state background, and that Pelosi asked him to run. If he gets this defensive among friends, I have low confidence in him against Republicans.
Simon Rosenberg I am glad someone on DKos thinks Rosenberg is "suave and engaging". Sitting next to Dean made him seem comparatively low wattage. He provided voters with a folder full of his press clippings, endorsements, and speeches and DVD of his media. I have a good impression of NDN as an organization that is media savvy and straddles both the left and right sides of the party. (A Fowler staff member complained, "But Simon will only fund New Democrats"). Rosenberg is proud of his efforts to reach Hispanic voters. He believes that Iowa and New Hampshire should not have a lock on the first primaries, but should be grandfathered in. He emphasized in his opening statement that NDN was involved in 48 states, including those that are difficult such as Alaska and Oklahoma; that Democrats won in 33 statewide elections; that Democrats should attract the grass roots, build local infrastructure, and have a strategy desk for the young; and that "opportunity, defense, faith, family, and community" should be Democrats' core values. These core values and common purpose should be the basis of party-state relationships. He also emphasized his experience writing and producing for television, in the Clinton "war room", and bringing in young Democrats and College Democrats. Rosenberg pointed out that married women in central Florida lost the Democrats that state. I think that having run a national campaign puts Rosenberg in a strong position. I think that he is looking for a balance between the national party and the grass roots. A document referred to early training for "academics and bloggers". Huh? These groups are supposed to be independent :)
Wellington Webb Another nice guy. Spoke well about how he has encouraged diversity with the people he has hired. Said that small states and retail politics were important in the primary process, but that candidates will adjust to whatever process there is. He is worried about affirmative action slots in competitive bidding for contracts. His state-national remarks were good: do not think you know everything from being national, wrap national around local and stand behind the state parties with revenue and staff. Hire people that the state parties suggest to you.
After the forum, I visited the hospitality suites.
Webb's suite was absolutely deserted. I talked to him walking down the aisle to the Al Sharpton event. (Sharpton is supporting a candidate for vice chair. I am positive I saw him as I entered the hotel in the lobby.) Webb asked me, "What did you think of the forum?" I said, "Well, you gave the impression of being very serious about diversity. I think Fowler was very strong." I asked him if he had any experience running a national campaign. Webb(hurt): "Well, I ran the Mondale campaign in Illinois and the Carter campaign in Colorado." I then threw him a softball: "Why do you want to be chair?" Webb gave a very eloquent answer about wanting to fight for labor, minorities, and everything the Democrats have traditionally fought for. There being no further questions, I let him go to his event. A staffer said, "Thank you".
Roemer had more attendees. The four or five tables in the lounge filled as the meeting went on. The spread was "comfort food", including ribs, chicken wings, potstickers and sandwiches. Roemer was overheard talking privately about how frustrating his run was and how "DNC members are split into three groups: people who will consider me, people who will consider the idea of a big tent, and people who can't vote for me." A DNC member from Wisconsin was very sympathetic to Roemer, since there are conservatives smack in the middle of her district. Roemer endured four questions, clearly wanting to meet and greet some more people. When asked, "What is positive about you that your critics should know about, besides the issue of the "big tent"?", he answered, "Children and education are very important to me; it's important to educate people for the jobs of tomorrow; I was on the 9/11 commission and understand national defense." (Not accurate quote at all) An eloquent anecdote was about his visit to a prison and how the warden told him that they plan for prisons by how many children are at risk in second grade. Next question: "Do you support NCLB? I forgot." With this acronym spelled out, Roemer explained that he supports the concept but not the way the Bush administration has handled or funded it. Roemer also explained that he is pro-life because children are so important to him and that we should work for a situation where a woman never feels that she has to have an abortion, because no woman wants one. (Good answer! Good answer!)
Fowler talked to me for easily half an hour, after which we exchanged emails and he gave me a button. He had the chair of the state party chairs at his event, whom I was introduced to. Food and drink comprised a bar, plus cheese, fruit, bread, crackers and vegetables. I asked him what "Christian politics" meant to him, since he had identified himself as a person of faith. "Do you mean, "What would Jesus do?"" OK, so he hadn't thought about it. "Well, how would you use Christian language to reach voters?" "The Democratic Party should not be in the business of religious language. I think there are common values in all religions, like Joseph Campbell (do you know him?) and the Democratic Party can use those values. What's really important is that the Republicans are telling people that you cannot be a person of faith and a Democrat, and that they are identifying us as godless, hateful, etc. We have to counter those messages and talk about family, community, hard work." (No more accurate than last quote) We came to a happy agreement that Democrats talk first about policies and do not spend time reaching the heart of the voters: "George Bush won because people thought he stood for what he believed in." "Clinton could reach the heart first." I picked up on Stirling Newberry's idea of a "national vision" and asked, "Can you have a national vision if you want simply to be a liaison for the state parties?" "My job is to be a clearinghouse for the state parties and get them the resources they need, whatever it is. Our national vision is our core Democratic values." I also asked him how he could keep the resources of the ABB donors. "The ABB donors know that Bush is opposite of their vision for America, so I don't see any problem holding on to them." (Do not assume any of these quotations is what he actually said.) Fowler also came out in favor of having many constituencies: DFA, DCAN, other Democratic organizations, etc. and having community elements on state party websites.
After this I watched the Jets go to OT. (Get new field goal kicker!) Two rank and file people had not made up their minds at all.
I see Dean, Rosenberg, and Fowler at the top of the pack. If I had been able to talk to Rosenberg, I might be able to make a better judgment about him and rank the three candidates better. An irrational worry about Dean is that he will only dance with the DFA types that brought him. (But if you want the Democrats to be like DFA, that's perfectly fine.)