TUESDAY 19th AUGUST 2008 @ 21:51 BST
Welcome all to the grand opening of Morus’ Denver Diary!
PoliticalBetting.com is almost the only UK online outpost to be reporting live from the Democratic Convention in 2008, where Senator Barack Obama will accept his party’s nomination for President of the United States.
This is where I will be writing at greater length than the main thread allows – posting thoughts and rumours, as well as transcripts of any interviews I conduct.
I will keep this as a single thread, and just keep updating it until I finally fly home a week on Saturday, so be sure to check in from time to time to get the latest on-the-ground news from the Democratic Party National Convention 2008!
SUNDAY 24th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:29 Mountain Time
I have arrived! After a long flight, and many buses, I am finally sat in my hotel room (the last available room in Denver I think) at the Days Inn Business Place near Denver International Airport.
I’m not that accustomed to flying, so almost ten hours of sitting on a plane, in a middle-seat, sapped my energy yesterday evening – having been up for 20-odd hours, and having a faulty battery on the laptop meant that I am running yesterday and today together here. Apologies – hopefully posting will be more regular and insightful now that I’ve got everything together.
I was sat next to the charming Michael Gapes MP (Lab – South Ilford) who Chairs the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. For those of you who speculate on the first MP to demand that Parliament be recalled during a recess, Mr Gapes might be your man – he has called back his Committee twice in recent years (last time was for the Israeli bombardment of the Lebanon) and I think he considered doing the same for South Ossetia.
We covered a lot of ground, discussing electoral prospects (he is fairly safe come the election, with a majority of over 9,000), the Lisbon Treaty (his Committee wrote the report – he is a staunch Europhile), Kashmir, the Speakership of the Commons, the expenses scandal, his links with the Democratic Party (I believe he is dining with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and attending a Willie Nelson concert – I’m more jealous of the former), and how a League of Democracies would undermine the UN. On UK politics, his feeling is that, in spite of the horror stories, that things are nowhere like as bad as they were in 1978 – apparently there isn’t the same hatred of the party on the doorstep, more a fatigue with the Labour government (in spite of poor Ian Gibson being shouted at in the Supermarkets of Norwich North).
The majority of the UK politicians who are over in Denver are those from either the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (such as Sir Menzies Campbell) who are friendly with their opposite numbers in the US Congress, or those politicians who take responsibility for electoral strategy. To that end, Douglas Alexander, Ed Miliband, and Lord Rennard are in town, joining Brian Wilson, Hugh Bayley and a few others.
For those of you who haven’t visited the Western United States, I am minded to recommend it for the size and beauty of the sky alone. Montana retains the trademark on ‘Big Sky’ but thanks to extraordinarily flat farmland stretching as far as the eye can see, Colorado has a vista to boast about – think East Anglia, but on a truly Biblical scale.
Denver International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, and must be under extreme pressure at the moment as the whole city is utterly consumed with the arrival of (and catering for) 50,000 delegates, journalists and dignitaries. I’ve been to event described as ‘tight security’ before, but this surpasses anything I could have envisaged. About one in five people in the city centre (rising to about one in three in the airport) are in law-enforcement uniforms, intermingled with quasi-official volunteers who are helping to marshall the crowds.
The airport itself is beautiful and spacious – like a grander version of Munich airport, with its white tented structure. It seems designed to show-off the raw natural beauty of Colorado’s horizons. The dominant theme of the artwork is of the original Native Americans, and this seems to be a major part of the State’s identity.
My approach to packing (last minute, steadfastly refusing to write lists) has not proved to be quite as successful as I had hoped – I managed to bring precisely no socks, and a broken plug adapter, so after a nine-and-a-half hour flight, my first job was to visit WalMart to do a little shopping. I was shuttled (for free by the hotel) down to the Retail Park by a native son of Colorado called Christian. Christian was white, in his late thirties or so, and typified the genuine dedication to hospitality and customer service that I enjoy so much when I visit the US.
He had been an Independent, but was now very much of the view that America was headed in the wrong direction. He likes Obama, but isn’t too enthralled – he wants to see a change and admitted he would just have readily voted for Senator Clinton. Christian said he had recently become more critical of his country – largely for three reasons. He felt that Americans were becoming more insulated from the world and not as curious about overseas affairs as they should be or had been. I suggested this was because times were hard at home, and that worrying about the world was something you had the luxury of doing when times were good, which led him to draw the comparison with Europe. This was his second reason. He said that the US was a great place to be in the wealthiest 50%: for personal opportunity, healthcare, education all the best in the world (I didn’t contradict him!). However, he thought that the US was a really difficult place to be poor. He derided some of the social welfare programmes that didn’t put people back to work, but thought that the lack of a safety net was too harsh compared to Europe. His top issue this November is healthcare. He is fortunate enough to be insured, but said that before he joined this employer, a serious injury would have cost him his house.
When I asked him what his third complaint was, he surprised me. He thought the US was still a fundamentally racist country. I asked him to state his case. He said that it wasn’t like it used to be, and he could imagine that working at a bank or as a lawyer that it probably didn’t matter anymore. But for him, the attitudes of Americans (and he drives a lot of them, for a range of hotels on the business park) towards working class people varied dramatically by race. He said that the drivers would compare tips at the end of an evening, and that the racial disparity was something they all recognised. He didn’t think this would affect Obama’s chances in November, but he was adamant that electing an educated black President wouldn’t make any real difference to American attitudes towards working-class black, hispanic, and Asian people.
Also staying in my hotel, and I owe him a vote of thanks for lending me a charger, is lobby journalist Mike Settle. He is covering the Convention for The Herald (whose owners also publish USA Today). It seems that pretty much every media corporation in the UK is sending a team – Martin Kettle and Steve Bell from the Guardian were on my flight, and Sir Trevor McDonald was also passing through customs as I was being interrogated as to whether ‘blogger’ was a euphemism for ‘protester’ by Homeland Security (who are much more pleasant, in a steely kind of way, than I was expecting).
I woke up this morning and mistakenly sampled the breakfast (english muffin with a burger and omelette, with some yoghurt) before taxiing to Downtown Denver. It is easy to forget quite how physically spread out American cities are compared to the UK, and my initial plan of walking everywhere did occasionally seem a little unwise (I escaped with chronic sunburn).
Denver is a fantastic city – a combination of flash Californian shopping and entertainment, with a small town charm of a Southern mill-city. The bars and cafes cover each and every pavement, and churches nestle under the wings of imposing corporate skyscrapers. Compared to the average US city, especially west of Chicago or south of DC, public transport is pretty good. There is a free bus that runs north-south along 16th street, so you can jump across the city in a little less than quarter of an hour – from the offices and hotels to the performing arts centres and the boutiques. Denverites (the correct term for residents of Denver, who are also Coloradans, or so I am told) seem largely enamoured of the Convention, and the national attention it has brought to their city. There was some grumbling about the circus of it all on some of the buses, and one Native American gentleman in town was laughing at the size of the armed police presence, comparing it to Baghdad and describing it as a military occupation. However, on the whole, the city seems to be proud of the display it is putting on, and eager to impress its visitors – many of whom (like myself) have never been to Denver, or explored the ‘Flyover’ States before.
In truth, it’s not just the Democratic Convention in the Pepsi Center that has rolled into town. The political equivalent of the Edinburgh Festival has come along too, with every left-wing (American), progressive, environmentally-friendly organisation in the country holding fringe meetings, selling goods, and running workshops. The real theme of this Convention week is environmental sustainability, and the gusto with which Coloradans embrace the prospect of energy independence. The vast majority of public transport vehicles are either powered by Natural Gas (LPG conversion I suspect) or are Electro-Petroleum hybrids. The sheer range of natural resources in Colorado seems to inspire a great deal of enthusiasm for becoming the energy powerhouse of the whole United States – be that through clean coal from Western Colorado, or by windfarms, or solar panels. If American is to actually every become energy independent, then Colorado will be at the forefront of that, if for no better reason than that energy and pragmatic environmentalism are clearly the things that the government of Colorado are determined to use as part of the State’s rebranding.
I’m going to grab some food this evening, and am hoping to meet up with Justin Webb and the BBC guys to get their first impressions. I’ve picked up my pass for Big Tent, and they have given me a massive number of freebies which I need some time to itemise and explain. I’ll be arriving there at about 8 am local time, so will try to give you another update on progress (beyond the main thread) some time in the late British afternoon.
In tribute to the usual PB.com globetrotter – SawadeeKAP!
SUNDAY 24th AUGUST 2008 @ 16:43 Mountain Time
A little housekeeping to kick off – I originally disabled comments just to avoid confusion with comments on the main thread, but as Socrates has asked, I’ve enabled them. Please be nice! I’ve not really done this sort of diary before – the articles I write for Mike tend to be my natural style of writing (a little dry and academic at times), so a more conversational account of experiences and impressions is a little out of my comfort zone. Feel free to let me know if I’m focussing too much on some things, or excluding things that you would like to know.
UPDATE: I’ve enabled comments, but it doesn’t seem to be allowing this. I’ll check with Mike if this is possible on this type of page, but if not, please do leave me messages on the main thread, or email me at morus1516 [AT] hotmail [DOT] com. Cheers.
I went down to the Big Tent this afternoon, to check-in and receive my pass. The Big Tent is to be found at 1536 Wynkoop – about 5 minutes’ walk from Union Station, and about a 15 minute walk to the Pepsi Center. That said, I can’t see myself wandering over to the Pepsi Center all that often. The security perimeter is significant, and wandering around without a full pass means that you quickly attract the attentions of the Police, Secret Service, and private security guards (I am in awe of the former and don’t like the latter!).
The Big Tent, as you may already know, is being organised by Daily Kos and Progress Now, bringing together over a thousand bloggers of a largely progressive bent to both cover the Convention itself, but to share ideas as to how the blogosphere, and the broader progressive movement, can shape American politics.
There are two views on the Big Tent – some seeing it as a consolation prize for the bloggers who weren’t credentialled to the Pepsi Center itself, other seeing it as an opportunity for the blogosphere to run a parallel conference whilst taking advantage of having the Democratic Party in town to be lobbied and networked with – a show of strength, if you like.
I have to say, I’m fairly please about what has been pulled together with the help of sponsors like Google and Digg. Obviously it would be fantastic to have been credentialled to the Pepsi Center itself, but with priority going to not just American blogs, but to Democratic Party activist blogs, I’m relishing the chance to mingle with our US counterparts – people who interested in the blogosphere as a medium, and who place a great deal of faith in the idea that the internet has irrevocably changed all aspects of American politics – from news-at-speed, to vetting, to fundraising, and to communications.
I don’t know whether my aim of speaking to a large number of Congressional candidates about their campaigns will be possible from the Big Tent, but then I don’t know that it would be any more possible in the Pepsi Center. Mike Settle of The Herald was sharing my taxi into Denver today, and we were discussing journalistic ethics: the lack of responsibility of the blogger, and the too-close relationship between lobby and politician. He is compelled, to maintain a career of longer than five minutes, to be careful and discreet about what he publishes – if he wrote as aggressively or as freely as, say, Guido Fawkes, he would not have any relationships on which to do his work. Those relationships are even more important in the US, as the sheer size of the country, and the number of competing outlets, means that the time of the key players is even more rationed (or so I suspect) than it is in the UK. Either way, I think there will be plenty of interesting people to talk to at the Big Tent – if I thought insight and access were entirely conditional on accessing the fortress that is the Pepsi Center, I wouldn’t have spent the money coming over here.
I will return to this theme at a later date, once I’ve talked to some of the other MSM journalists (incidentally MSM is a banned term on Daily Kos – they say ‘Traditional Media’ as they feel MSM implies the blogosphere is not mainstream. When your blog gets 19 million hits a month, being told you aren’t mainstream by the ‘Boulder Free Press and Echo’ is probably quite irksome!). Inevitably, I will re-quote the wonderful passage in Hunter S Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.
That brings me to another point. Two lists for you to peruse and comment upon.
Books I have brought (I may review the ones that are relevant to US Politics):
Hunter S Thompson – ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972’
Barack Obama – ‘Audacity of Hope’
Barack Obama – ‘Dreams From My Father’
Bill Bryson – ‘Shakespeare’
The Constitution of the United States of America (Madison et al)
Robert Dahl – ‘How Democratic is the American Constitution?’
Salman Rushdie – ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’
The second list is the extraordary list of goodies provided by the good people at the Big Tent. Bear in mind that for a ‘donation’ of $100, I get free WiFi and power, free food, and free beer for four straight days, so this is just the extras:
Two canvass bags
A stack of political postcards
A SKYPE headset and thirty minutes of free call to any landline or cellphone
A notepad and very nice pencil (complete with pencil-warmer)
Three books – one on Global Warming, one on Patriotism, and a guide to progressive political organisations including a how-to guide to starting your own.
A large chocolate bar
Some organic peanut butter
Some crazy caffeinated South American teabags
Some smelly soaps / bathstuff
A large flapjack
A carton of coconut milk (the new thing in energy drinks apparently…)
Two small flapjacks, with strange seeds and fruits included
A thermos coffee-mug and a vacuum-pack of coffee produced by a blind coffee taster
A snazzy sports water flask
A disc-shaped tin of lime-infused sugar for the rim of mojito glasses…
And my Big Tent pass to get free food and beer for the next four days.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good haul for just turning up.
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 2008 @ 09:55 Mountain Time
So I’m inside the Big Tent, and all credit to the organisers for the set-up and fantastic WiFi access.
I woke up at about 06:30 and watched the early morning cable shows which are dominated by the opening of the Convention. The news and weather have been somewhat relegated, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that five tornadoes just south of Denver were included as an amusing ‘And finally…’ item on the weather. The last time we had a (much smaller) twister in the UK it dominated the BBC for about three days.
I was reminded of an American friend who was explaining to some liberal British friends of mine the ease with which Americans take to Biblical fundamentalism. He explained that when UK Christians read about fire, famine and flood they think of them in almost metaphorical terms. When Americans read about the plagues of Egypt and the flight of the Israelites, it sounds commensurate with the average weather report!
I thought about trying to cadge a lift with some journalists but they rushed off before I had finished my boisenberry danish pastry, so I could the free hotel shuttle to the airport, and then took the 45 minute RTD (public transport coach) from there to Downtown.
An hour door to door (shorter than my current commute in London) is very good considering the distances by public transport, and as well as time to think and plan, it also allowed me to see the suburbs of Denver – a striking contrast to the downtown area.
I should begin by giving credit to the city – it is stunningly clean and accessable, and they have made every effort to make sure that it looks its glimmering best for the 50,000 or so visitors expected this week. The suburbs too are tidy and neat, but what struck was was their redemption by the early morning sunshine. Transplant some typical English weather, and many of the houses, bungalows and pre-fab condos would have looked more in place in Toxteth or Grangetown than the US. There is a quiet hardship, even here- in a city that is booming, and has undergone one of the most successful regeneration efforts of the last two decades.
Our route took us down Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard onto Downing Street (seriously) and then into town via California Street. The first of these is a four-mile street, that seems to boast the majority of this suburb’s churches and public schools. I counted three Christian churches in a row, and four or five more on the same street. The schools, which I’m fairly sure were public schools, were excellently turned out, seeming incongruously comfortable considering the comparative poverty of the area. Around the corner, though, you could see more closely that every window in view was covered in a fine-mesh grill. A good place to send your kids by day, but without the sunshine, not perhaps a place I would dwell after dark.
One of my fellow travellers (I didn’t catch her name – ‘Meredith’ perhaps) was flying back to Michigan later that day (she lives about 35 miles north of Indianapolis). We talked about the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal, but she didn’t consider it important – times are too hard in Michigan to worry about the political horse race. 25 car-plants have closed in the last couple of years, with the loss of over 40,000 jobs. With mock-pride, she told me how Detroit has taken back its crown as ‘the Death Capital of America’ from arch-rivals Washington DC. She told me that a recent story had been a leaked AOL document saying that investment in Detroit was not worth it, as ‘the city will be a ghost town’ by 2020. Every house seems to be for sale, with sellers easily outstripping buyers since the near-collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Between her house, and her mother’s at the end of the street, there are 15 properties up for grabs. Foreclosures are a major problem. To my mind, this explains the 2-day delay in announcing Biden as VP – Obama’s campaign knew that the ‘I don’t know how many houses I have’ episode would be a real boon in key states like Michigan (rare, as a Kerry State that is not at all safe for Obama), and they didn’t want to eclipse that if they could help it.
The Big Tent itself is fantastic – security is friendly but tight, the volunteers and staff are engaged and excited, and the 500 or so bloggers expected (I had previously said 1,000, but it is about half of that – chosen from 3,500 applications) are extremely professional and articulate. If I had walked in cold, not knowing the event, I would not have realised that this was not a professional media tent. Many of these guys are, in fact, professional bloggers, but there is not the sort of hippy, amateurish fringe that I was sort-of expecting. This is chinos and shoes, dictaphones and expensive cameras, AppleMacs are ubiquitous, iPods as common as watches. The milling around and networking is exceptionally friendly, but the bowed heads at the long tables indicate that filing deadlines and news monitoring will be as important as the contacts made.
This is interesting to me – the romantic idea of the citizen journalist belies the intense motivation of these people to be part of the process. They are more like entrepreneurs swimming alongside corporate media, than amateur sports enthusiasts at a big game.
I’m going to spend a bit more time meeting some people, and I’ll report back again in a couple of hours.
HOUSEKEEPING: I spoke to Mike, and we can’t enable comments on this page. I’ll keep checking the main thread, and remember, you can always e-mail me at the usual address: morus1516 [AT] hotmail [DOT] com.
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 2008 @ 11:43 Mountain Time
So, already some fascinating conversations. I’ve caught up with Katelyn from BlueStateDigital (who did some of the website work for Ken Livingstone’s campaign) and a chap called Ben – Ben has recently graduated from Brandeis University and has spent twelve weeks touring the US asking young voters what motivates them – read his story at Acrossthegreatdivide.us.
I’m going to a Frank Luntz even on Wednesday, looking at how Americans will vote on the US relationship wit Israel. Gabrieli from the Israel Project has promised to try and get me five minutes with him – send questions to the usual address (UK or US elections). Gabrielie and I talked about the upcoming Kadima election. He reckons that Mofaz will beat Livni to the leadership, and is adamant that Benyamin Netanyahu will be the next Israeli PM. For him, the decisive issue in the Kadima leadership election will be preparedness to negotiate over the Golan Heights – Livni might, Mofaz won’t. He anticipates a move to the right over the next couple of years in Israeli politics.
I’m currently sat next to Jim McKay from WVaBlue.com, and we’ve been discussing why, when all the state-wide Democrats – both US Senators (Byrd and Rockefeller) and Governor Manchin – have been elected with almost 70% of the vote, has the party struggled to win Presidential elections in the State. As an Appalachian state, Obama’s only hope here is that the McCain votes is fragmented by the candidacy of Bob Barr and Ralph Nader. Jim reckons Joe Manchin is the most likely candidate to take over from Senate Pro Tem Robert Byrd, assuming he isn’t actually immortal!
Ben Tribbet and Josh Chernila from RaisingKaine are sat opposite (the large Virginia blog, famed for some great videos). Josh has been explaining the demographic changes in the State, whereby Virginia is moving from being a Southern state, to becoming part of the Mid-Atlantic bloc. The split (northern crescent v south-west) matches the line of Appalachia, but they are confident of a win in November. They were actually quite please that Kaine wasn’t chosen as VP – for them, the major issue in Virginia is redistricting, which will happen after the decennial census in 2010. To allow the Republican lieuitenant governor to take charge of that process could lead to even further consolidating the demographic core vote into a more limited number of districts. There has been much progress made in Virginia for the Democrats – not only with Webb (and soon Warner) occupying the Senate seats, and Kaine in the State house – but they have made the Virginian legislatures close as well. This trend they see as moving south, with North Carolina also trending Democratic thanks to the growth of Charlotte as a banking centre, and the Research Triangle District in the North West of the State.
Back again soon!
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 2008 @ 13:43 Mountain Time
I had a burrito for lunch, which was excellent. I also like Fresna, and am considering setting up an import business to feed my thirst for it when I’m back in the UK. All in all, the only bad thing about this whole trip has been the sunburn, but I’m getting over that slowly.
I’ve just finished a 15-minute interview with Markos Moulitsas (founder of Daily Kos) and our host at the Big Tent. I’ll be transcribing that this evening, so you will have a copy of it tomorrow.
I ate my lunch with Matt, a reporter from the New Mexico Independent newspaper. We talked about the remarkable fact that all three sitting Congressmen (2 GOP, 1 Democrat) ran for the open Senate seat, that Democrat Tom Udall is favoured to win (the GOP party choice didn’t get the nomination). I asked whether Albaquerque Mayor Marty Chavez had avoided the race to run for Governor in 2010 (Richardson is term-limited) but he said that Chavez was warned off by the Party who favoured Udall, and will not stand a chance of getting the Democratic nomination for Governor over the wealthy Lt Gov. The swing house seat is Albaquerque itself, and decides which party has the majority within the New Mexican caucus in the US House of Representatives. As with everyone here, Matt feels pretty confident of the Democrat’s chances.
My second interview of the afternoon (no transcript, I’m afraid) was with Mike Liddell, who is the Director of Online Communications for the Democratic Senate Campaigns Committee (he works for New York Senator Chuck Schumer). We talked through a number of races, and he told me that the public expectation is for 55-56, with a filibuster-proof Senate still being a hope rather than an expectation. He confirmed to me that Joe Biden will still be contesting his Delaware Senate seat in November, which means a Special Election will need to be called if he is also elected Vice President.
The focus appears to be on the truly winnable – Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia – but there is still an appetite to invest in party infrastructure in Idaho, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. Mike did acknowledge that this was as much a facet of where we are in the campaign – it would be foolish to assume that current levels of funding going to the Mississippi or Wyoming races would continue all the way to November when things get right down to the wire.
I asked whether rumours that Chuck Schumer would do a third election cycle as Chair of the DSCC could be confirmed, and they weren’t. This isn’t apparently going to even be discussed until the New Year, and the job remains the gift of Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), though it is hard to imagine Schumer would not be retained in this position if he were masochistic enough to want it.
As well as Biden/Obama/McCain possibly needing to vacate the Senate in January, the issue of soon to be open states is not really noticed in the maelstrom of the moment, but given health troubles, there are a number of Senators who may soon choose to step down. Tim Johnson (Dem) in South Dakota, Arlen Specter (GOP) in Pennsylvania, Robert Byrd (Dem) West Virginia, and of course Ted Kennedy (Dem) of Massachusetts who is in Denver today. The sheer number means that the 2008 election might only deliver half of the changes we will see in the Upper Chamber in the next two years. It was typical of Mike Liddel’s responses that he wouldn’t even consider Massachusetts a shoo-in victory: even though they haven’t sent a Republican to Congress for about 20 years, they did elect Mitt Romney governor.
That was how we came around to talking about Massachusetts – I mentioned the changes being proposed by the GOP to the State Statutes in Arizona (pending a potential vacancy if McCain wins), and we moved on to the different ways in which vacancies are filled. I asked if there would be a silver lining if a McCain-Voinovich (sarcastically!) ticket won the White House, allowing the chance of two more Democrats. Mike said that they would be very happy with 55 Senators and President Obama! If McCain were elected, Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano would be compelled by law to choose a Republican until a special election could be held, but this rule varies from state to state. This is why Massachusetts was mentioned – thinking Kerry might win in 2004, and fearing Romney would appoint a Republican to replace him in the Senate, the Democratic Party changed the law to ensure that Kerry’s successor would belong to the same party. Keeping on top of the variations in State Law for filling vacancies to the US Senate is something of a full-time job!
Another meeting was Justine Lam, of Politicker.com, an organisation hoping to be like a free version of the Cook Report. They have outlets and on-the-ground reporters in around 15 states, and are focussing not only on Congressional and Gubernatorial races, but on the State Legislatures and other statewide-office elections that are so often overlooked. They do a daily-updated tracker focussing on the closest races. As I write at the moment, North Carolina (Elizabeth Dole) and Georgia (Saxby Chambliss) are in the top 5 closest races. Take a look at http://www.politicker.com/pindell-report for more details.
Off to meet more people, and to charge my laptop (only 31% of battery remaining!).
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:30 Mountain Time
Even with the Computer in the Battery Charging Centre (this event has everything…)I was still able to make the most of the many contacts and bloggers. Several of them have been credentialled to the Pepsi Centre itself, but are spending much of their time here for the facilities, which suits me just fine.
One of these is Scott from Blue Jersey (who I am fairly sure is also a State blogger in the Pepsi Center). I caught him quickly to ask if he was concerned about polls that show Senator Frank Lautenburg with only a narrow lead in New Jersey. He laughed, saying this is the pattern of New Jersey politics since Woodrow Wilson – Republicans finally get a candidate, they raise some money, get close in some polls up until the week before – and then lose by 8-10 points. He was completely unconcerned about a major surprise, although he did offer me one prediction: Lautenburg to win with between 55 and 56% of the vote, and he will outpoll Obama-Biden in New Jersey by about 2%.
Another one of the more interesting Senate Races is in Oregon, where incumbent Republican Gordon Smith is facing a strong challenge from Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Jeff Merkley. Corey Chisholm, who is co-ordinating the online campaign for this Senate race, took a few moments to talk about his Pacific North West State. Merkely beat off competition from disabled activist Steve Novick, and is no longer concerned about a serious third party challenge from John Frommeyer (an architect). There is a Constitution Party candidate scheduled to run, but he will likely only take votes to the right of Smith – I would be very surprised if this seat didn’t change hands in November.
A not-so-small media has grown outside the security boundary of Big Tent – even the press are not allowed in without a pass, except under special circumstances, although that rule might be waived if John Stewart’s Daily Show show up (as has been rumoured).
Whilst I was waiting for my computer to recharge her batteries, I went for a wander down 16th Avenue. I was accosted by any number of people – men dressed as chimney sweeps distributing the Onion’s Convention Issue, a chugger for Human Rights Campaign, two men in animal suits (Donkey and Elephant obviously) riding Segways for MSNBC, a man dressed as Abraham Lincoln – and accidentally ran into a television interview with Bobby Kennedy Jr and his 14-year-old son.
16th Street is a carnival at the moment – about 50% of people are wearing passes, either for Pepsi or for Big Tent or for other conferences, about 20% are in uniform (including some awesome outside-the-vehicle riding by the Denver SWAT teams – very cool), about 10% are distributing leaflets or selling Obama merchandise, and the remaining 20% are sat in the pavement cafes looking bemused, or having their own heated debates about the Presidential Election. This event isn’t disconnected from the citizenry, as I think big events often can be. It feels more like the Edinburgh Festival – where residents are almost certainly attraction-goers, not just put-upon taxpayers – than a party conference in Blackpool or Brighton.
As I crossed Wazee (the street parallel with Wynkoop) a small band of about 30 people were marching with banners marked ‘Clintons for McCain’ – the older women leading the march were stony-faced, the young men at the rear were more boisterous, carrying McCain banners and chanting the Republican nominee’s name. They were being guarded by about 8 policemen on bicycles, which gives an indication of how little trouble American protests cause, or perhaps an indication of police priorities – I don’t know.
I’m sat opposite a blogger who works for NARAL, but in lieu of an on-the-record interview, she has offered to request an interview with the national president of NARAL tomorrow, who is tonight addressing the Convention. Questions about the ranking of Senators and Congressmen will be high on my list. Send any others you’d like answers too.
Back again later…
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 2008 @ 16:40 Mountain Time
I’m flagging a little – it is very warm here, and in spite of the free beer and soft drinks, fatigue is beginning to set in. I wandered over to get one of the free massages, but the queue was pretty long. People are taking a bit of a break, pending Michelle Obama’s address to the Convention which will kick off about 18:30 local time (so about 01:30 British Summer Time).
I took a few moments to have a chat with Nico from Huffington Post. We spent most of the time talking British politics, so I’m afraid I got very little insight on the US this time around, but hopefully we’ll catch up for a beer later in the week. Arianna Huffington is speaking on the Digg Stage upstairs, but is running off as soon as she’s offstage – the schedule some of these keynote speakers are keeping is insane.
Nick Palmer MP has asked me to comment on the Hillary Clinton factions and what impact they are having in Denver. I’ll return to this theme in greater detail when I’ve managed to speak to some of them, and to get more reaction from those inside the Pepsi Center, but from what I’ve seen they are having almost no impact whatsoever.
It is not surprising that they are completely absent in the Big Tent – this is an enthused netroots conference, and everyone is pumped up about electing Obama-Biden. The PUMAs (which stands for ‘Party Unity My Ass’) are an almost apocryphal enemy – no-one has seen more than a couple, but they are creating a minor frisson of assumed trouble-making. Other than the small (and I mean small, bordering on pathetic) I’ve seen nothing of them.
I don’t think they will be allowed to cause a scene in the Pepsi Center, and there aren’t enough of them here to be causing mayhem from the streets. I don’t really see what they can achieve – even destructively – without important sponsors, whom they lost as soon as the RBC ruled against seating her delegates in full and Obama won the nomination.
I will return to this in more detail, but at the moment, there is almost no Clintonista presence to report upon. I’ll keep looking, and see if I can catch me a live one, even if the standard response in Big Tent is “shoot as soon as you see the whites of their eyes”!
Lamar White is a blogger with the Daily Kingfish from Louisiana (‘Kingfish’ was the nickname of Huey Long, Governor and Senator of Louisiana in the 1930s). He has been following Democrat Mary Landrieu’s Senate re-election campaign closely, as she fights against John Kennedy. Kennedy (no relation to the famous family) is a former-Democrat, who ran for that party in 2004. One of the jokes played on his campaign has been to hand out the buttons that bear his name and allegiance from 2004. It says something when the Republicans cannot find a candidate in Louisiana, and have to get Karl Rove to recruit for them in person.
Landreiu is the most likely Democrat to fall in November, although some polls now have her leading by 16%, suggesting she is safe this cycle. The other major personality in state is Governor Bobby Jindal – the bloggers are relishing the idea of him becoming McCain’s VP. He has recently refused to renew an Executive Order prohibiting employment discrimination on grounds of sexuality. The extreme-Catholic Governor said this was because it was no longer necessary in that pantheon of liberalism – Louisiana.
John Podesta, President Clinton’s last White House Chief of Staff, just passed through searching for a person or persons unknown. The way that man walks, you do not stop him and ask if he has time for a chat – I’m not apologising for missing that one!
All in all, there are far too many people to ever speak to everyone you would like to, and a mad competition for the precious seconds of many of the more senior politicos. Nico, from Huffington Post, said that this was the most frustrating aspect of these sorts of events – everyone is chasing for interviews, and the whole thing becomes a mad circus. You end the day being grateful for what you can get.
I’m still in awe of the sheer logistical organisation of what’s gone on here – thinking about how something similar could work in the UK, but that’s another post, for another time.
TUESDAY 26th AUGUST 2008 @ 08:51 Mountain Time
Morning all! So, later on this morning, I’ll be blogging a response to the Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy speeches, and trying to make sense of what the Democratic Party were aiming for with yesterday’s opening.
For now, here’s a transcript of my interview with Markos Moulitsas (founder of Daily Kos) who is both hosting the Big Tent, and launching his new book. I caught him at lunch to set a convenient time, and his response was “Can we do it now?”, so out came the dictaphone and this is the result. I didn’t have time to prep the questions or structure them, so if it seems a little haphazard, that’s entirely my fault. I’ve cleaned up my rambling questions, but tried to quote Markos essentially verbatim.
To read the interview (which I’ve put on a sub-page, to reduce server pressure on this page) click here, or check out the Pages list on the right-hand side of the main thread.
I also got a chance to speak to a Hillary Clinton supporter who I think would be considered an arch-PUMA – I’ll write that up late morning as well.
Plan for the day is to attend a couple of the Big Tent events on the Digg Stage – Arianna Huffington is speaking again tonight, there’s a lunch-time event on the economy (to which Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio should be coming), and I’m going to try and catch David Podesta this time.
I’ve e-mailed Nate Silver (the guy who runs the superb 538.com) about meeting up for a beer this evening, so if people would like to send me their geeky, statistical, or psephological questions to morus1516 [AT] hotmail [DOT] com, I’ll ask them. If you can’t think of any geeky questions, then regular questions will be considered.
One final thing – my sincere thanks to Jemma, who kindly pointed out a typo. Keeping standards high – we like it.
Catch you all later
TUESDAY 26th AUGUST 2008 @ 11:35 Mountain Time
Caught a ride downtown with Robin, Kevin and Josh from New York One (a Time Warner News Channel) to save money on taxis. We shot the breeze about the speeches last night, the PUMAs, and whether Biden was the right choice.
I should begin with yesterday evening. I had promised Nick Palmer MP that I would track down a die-hard Clintonista, and so I did. Cathy is from Ashville, North Carolina, and I found her stood opposite the RTD station in Market Square, waiting for the free Mall bus that runs up 16th Street. She was carrying a Hillary Clinton official poster, and was extremely suspicious when I asked whether she would speak to me for a few moments. There was no way I could use the dictaphone without making her even more suspicious, but she agreed to speak to me until the bus came (they are every five minutes).
I began with the obvious question: would she support Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee? I was instantly corrected – the party hadn’t chosen a nominee yet, and there was still a chance that the Convention would do the right thing. I conceded, and asked whether she would still vote Democrat *if* Obama was nominated. She told me absolutely not. She didn’t feel that abstaining or voting for minor candidates was anything other than a tacit vote for Obama, so she would do everything in her power to ensure John McCain’s victory.
I checked that her issue was not therefore one of policy…”What policy?” she threw back at me. “He’s an empty suit. He has no policies.”. I again deferred, and said that I therefore presumed that this was about personal character. She agreed absolutely. Acknowledging that she disagreed with him on some issues, she was wanted someone substantial and with a proven record as President.
Was it fair to surmise, I asked, whether she wasn’t voting for McCain as much as against Obama? Not entirely, she said. She was glad to be voting McCain, and looked forward to him being President. I pointed out that he was a maverick, closer to the Democratic Party than many Republicans. If a lesser Republican, or one further away from her position had been chosen, might she then have considered voting for Obama? She refused to answer the hypothetical, and something in her voice stopped me from pointing out that, by her standards, the Republican nominee hadn’t yet been chosen, making it less of a hypothetical.
I left the interview there – the bus was coming, and my witness was hostile. She didn’t once mention Hillary Clinton, and there seemed no particular mourning for the failure of a woman to capture the White House. Cathy was opposed to Obama, in every way, and that was what was motivating her, not a feeling of injustice, or that Hillary was cheated. I don’t know if this is typical of the PUMAs, but if so, it implies that Hillary would have been a wasted VP pick. Her hard-core ‘supporters’ are no longer interested in what she tells them to do. They just want Obama to fail.
There is a huge deal of talk about issues at the Convention, but no on-the-ground evidence of it at the moment. Certain key advisers are missing Obama’s speech at the Invesco Stadium, and Bill isn’t happy talking on Security, when he wants to talk about the economy (and thus his achievements that Obama’s campaign has apparently not done enough to highlight), but other than that…? Apparently, there is a plot afoot that will see a large number of the Clinton delegates leave the Convention either after Hillary’s speech or the roll call vote, whichever is later. They hope to make a statement with their absence. My call? Too many people are having too much fun networking and partying, and I don’t think numbers of absentees will be significant enough to be noticed by the TV cameras. There will continue to be 30-person pro-Hillary protests, but they will continue to be outnumbered by Police and journalists who, like me, would love to see a great Convention fight for the sheer theatre of it. I just don’t think it will happen. In current economic climate, how many people like Cathy would fly to Denver to attend half a convention, for a failed candidate, who has said she doesn’t support your actions? I think the storm is a media story, rather than a fair reflection of reality.
I’ll blog later on about the speeches, and should be meeting the Lord Rennard at 5pm local time (so midnight British Summer Time). Send your questions to the usual address.
TUESDAY 26th AUGUST 2008 @ 13.01 Mountain Time
Just had a quick chat with Lucas O’Connor from Calitics (Californian State activist blogger, who is seated with the California delegation (remember, Clinton won California, and cost me some speculative money on Super Tuesday).
There is no worry that California will not be won by Obama, and Lucas reckons that even a moderate like McCain (or for that matter a ‘favourite son’ like Governor Schwartznegger) would struggle to get within 5 points. The California party is expending most energy fundraising, sending phone-bankers and volunteers to Nevada and New Mexico, and focussing on increasing their haul of House Seats.
On who will replace the Governor in 2010: there don’t appear to be many Republicans with statewide name recognition, whereas the Democrats have both the Mayors of Los Angeles and San Fransisco, as well as former Gov. Gerry Brown, or even US Senator Dianne Feinstein.
I’ve finally found time to commit my thoughts on the speeches last night. Let’s start with the very worst, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Take a look at this video and tell me with a straight face that her voice and delivery-style (including the hypnotic effect of the Teleprompters) doesn’t remind you of John McCain wearing a wig and lipstick. It’s that same false smile, and glassy eyes. It’s the same stilted delivery, and uneven timbre. It amazes me that two politicians this senior are not better able to deliver a speech, and make no mistake, Pelosi’s was bottom of the drawer awful. I have no earthly idea what she said, so transfixed was I by her oratorical malfeasance.
Ted Kennedy was the biggest name of the evening, introduced by Caroline Kennedy, and he received a long standing ovation before he had spoken, simply for making the effort to attend Denver. The Convention Floor was swamped with Kennedy posters, and I won’t have been the only person to be reminded of Bobby Kennedy’s 16 minutes of applause (before he had even begun speaking) back in 1964 (the year after his brother had been assassinated).
Kennedy used to be a masterful speaker, though not in the same league as Bobby, or even Jack. He still commands a stage, but it was clear that this was far more of a struggle than he is used to enduring. He was formidable in his support for Obama, and the talk of ‘a torch being passed to the next generation’ was typical of the Camelot myth-making that seems to follow that tragic family in all their adventures.
I am pretty immune to booming delivery styles, but when he promised that he would be on the Senate floor in January, to see Obama elected formally, even my jaw quivered. The affection, the genuine love, that Democrats have for Teddy Kennedy is striking – he is one of the few people that receives almost no criticism. He is a Liberal Lion, and holds a very special place in the hearts of almost every Democrat, from the Netroots to the Party Bosses. It was a genuinely moving moment, and I was expecting to be far more cynical about the whole evening.
I do stand by my dislike for the sacharine, cloying, mawkish sentimentality of the introductory videos, and I am happy to record the concern I felt when Michelle Obama’s video was played. This is a cultural chasm, I recognise, but it is one of the few culture-gaps that I feel no desire or obligation to bridge. So I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about her address – I thought there was a real danger that it would set a fairly soppy, loose tone for the Convention. I was wrong.
Everybody raves about Barack Obama’s speech four years ago in Boston, before he was even a US Senator. That was a great speech, a historic speech, and Michelle Obama’s will not have that sort of impact, but in a different way, it was actually even better.
She was speaking about personal and family history – what made her who she is, and how she and Barack Obama held in common a loving family, who made such sacrifices for their children’s success. She spoke of her father’s MS, and of her brother’s watchful care, how they managed to go to college against all the odds, and how they struggled to pay their utility bills.
She began a little nervously – just nervously enough, my first admiring cynical thought – but grew more comfortable the longer she was up there. The writing was well-suited to her delivery style and voice – less homogenous than her husband’s lesser speeches, she seemed very comfortable modulating her tone and switching style. She was unbelievably personable, even on a stage that grand, and I could suddenly see that this address wasn’t a stunt – this was planned to perfection and was designed to bridge a gap with women and blue collar workers that her husband has not been so successful at bridging.
I’ve had mixed feelings about her public performances before. Several people on here have considered her a liability, and I could understand that she can appear spiky, maybe a little too clever to be the woman behind the candidate (a strike always levelled at Hillary Clinton). But if those things are true, she is more than a good enough actress to play the new role assigned to her. I won’t deny, there were moments when you realised that she was the best of Barack Obama, and the best of Hillary Clinton rolled into one, and that maybe (just maybe) the wrong spouse was on the ticket. That thought didn’t hang around long, but I couldn’t help but consider it, given the angle she was taking, the target audience she was playing to, and the aplomb with which she carried it off. Polished, but not slick. Emotional, but not mawkish. Accomplished, but not intimidatingly so. It will be seen as a soft-ball speech – mood music for the heavyweight politicos who will follow – but it is more likely to connect with voters than anything you will hear in the soaring rhetoric or uplifting phraseology that Joe Biden and Barack Obama will serve up this week.
James Carville, who famously called Bill Richardson a ‘Judas’, is expressing his disdain already. The man who told President Clinton “It’s the Economy, Stupid” is simply out of touch with the way campaigns now work. Of course, the economy is still a major issue – even the biggest facing America – but people are not rational, self-interested consumers anymore, if indeed they ever were. They abandoned Gore, not because he and Clinton had done anything but bring peace and a budget surplus, but because they wanted someone who spoke to their values and their characters. It is on these grounds, after four years of Bush, that this election will be won – the mood needs to be front and centre, and Michelle Obama is a massive part of that general emotive branding.
Obama has plenty of policy, but he is right not to tie himself down to policy debates all that often. As soon as there are policy debates, there are wedge issues, and political calculation. Obama is experimenting with the idea that McCain can at least fight him on policy, but he can’t match him on grabbing the mood of the nation, and demanding that it propel him to the White House to solve its problems. Great politics isn’t about winning the argument, it is about setting the terms of the argument, and making sure that it is fought in away that prevents your opponent from even getting an equally high seat at the table.
If you haven’t seen the Michelle Obama speech (in three parts – links below), take a look. You’ll also see what I mean about the videos!
See you all later on.
TUESDAY 26th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:47 Mountain Time
The Big Tent is busier today than it was yesterday, with significantly more members of the traditional media and other guests coming along to take a look. I’ve been ticking off the states, and spent some of this afternoon sat opposite the blogger Cottonmouth from Mississippi. In spite of funding disadvantages, he was very upbeat about one of the two US Senate races happening in MS – the Special Election between Republican appointed-incumbant Roger Wicker, and former Governor Ronnie Musgrave. With easily the highest African-American population in the US, Mississippi Democrats are hoping the extra registration of black voters (unlikely to be sufficient to give Obama the state) might just enable Musgrove to win.
A whole group of Oregonians, organised by Corey Chilsholm (whom I met yesterday), are at a cocktail party in the Oxford hotel, celebrating the ‘Trick or Vote’ initiative. Technically non-partisan (though most are young Democrats), they are taking advantage of the great American festival of Halloween to induce people to vote in the General Election a week later.
They (The Oregon Bus Project) have found that door-knocking of this type boosted turnout in Portland by between 12-16% in each county, and that was with a record 800 volunteers. They are now going national, in 25 cities in 12 states (maybe more), dressing people in costume and sending them out on the one day of the year that Americans don’t mind strangers knocking on their door. They will have at least 4,000 volunteers on 31st October 2008, knocking on at least 100,000 doors. I can’t help but wonder if it would go down quite as well in the UK!
Lord Rennard is coming along later, and says he is bringing Ed Davey with him (I posted some not very complimentary things about Mr. Davey’s article on LibDemVoice last week, to which he felt compelled to respond … cripes!), and will transcribe that meeting tomorrow morning. Later tonight I’m off to a reception to meet Congresswoman Donna Edwards (MD-04), as well as three of the new generation of Democratic US Senate candidates: Scott Kleeb for Nebraska, Jeff Merkley for Oregon, and Andrew Rice in the tough seat in Oklahoma.
As always, send any questions you have, and I’ll do my best to ask them.
Back again later…
WEDNESDAY 27th AUGUST 2008 @ 11.19 Mountain Time
So with a rather sore head from ‘networking’ last night, I’ve finally managed to get connected to the internet again, and am planning out the day.
Yesterday was somewhat frenetic – meeting with Lord Rennard and Ed Davey MP, then followed by watching the Convention on the massive screens for a few hours, visiting the ‘Trick or Vote’ guys, doing what I think was an interview about PB.com for about 30 minutes with the two US correspondents for ‘Der Spiegel’, then onto a fantastic party thrown by Democracy For America (on which I’ll do a full post later on today).
I’ve posted a transcript of my interview with Lord Rennard and Ed Davey, which can be found here, but I don’t think I’ll be doing transcripts from here on in – its too time-consuming to write them up, for one thing, and some of the charming people I have on tape aren’t always as concise in making their points as I might like. A journalistic lesson learned.
I thought I would give my brief reactions to last night’s speeches at the Convention Centre. I thought Senator Bob Casey gave a good address, and I wonder if he might be a safe VP choice for somebody in 8-12 years. The theme he adopted was “Four more years? They get four more months!” and then proved that the latter is marginally more difficult for a packed floor of political activists to chant than the former.
Mark Warner, whom I had thought would be the best VP choice, gave a fairly lacklustre and uninspiring performance. The rhetoric was taken straight out of a ‘teach yourself rhetoric’ book, and some of the claims (how “America is the only country ….[fill in blank with absurd claim here]”) bordered on the plain silly. He didn’t disgrace himself, but I think a lot of people were disappointed that he didn’t shine as much as expected. He was followed by the wonderful Brian Schweitzer. I’d like to think that the Court Jester act wouldn’t have been in evidence to quite the same extent if he had been chosen as VP, but he lit up the floor, and proved that Democrats too can wear Bolo ties (interestingly not listed on the Paddy Power market for Obama’s tie at Invesco).
One thing, however, was clear – the night would belong to Hillary Clinton, and I heard more than one person at Big Tent say that she had for more to lose giving her speech than anyone else (in terms of her family’s reputation in the party). I thought it was one of her best and more comfortable addresses to date – she steadily improved as a speaker throughout the primary campaign – and some of the jokes were incredibly well received (actual genuine laughter!). The ‘sisterhood of the travelling pant-suits’ was perfectly pitched, and did much to lighten the tone early on.
The only person who appeared not to be entirely won over by this display of loyalty – and Senator Clinton was eager to make explicitly clear that she was absolutely behind Barack Obama – was the presumptive nominee’s wife, Michelle. She was lauded by Senator Clinton, and as one of the comments from the Sun’s David Roe on here read, “she looked like she had swallowed a wasp”. I thought the night’s best analogy also came from pb.com’s comments courtesy of Paul M, and I shared it with many of the bloggers here who loved it. I think it was was that Michelle Obama looked like “the bride during the best man’s speech, just waiting for it to be over, and hoping it doesn’t get out of hand”!
I thought, irrespective of what she may feel personally, Hillary Clinton acquitted herself admirably last night, and if there was only one fault it was that I thought too much of her speech referenced her own Presidential campaign. No-one was to be allowed to forget that she had run him close, even if her loyalty was pledged to his cause now. And she made sure to cite her husband’s achievements on the economy – something that Bill Clinton has reportedly felt has not gotten enough credit from the Obama campaign.
The Independent story that Mike ran as a main thread last night took a lot of the bloggers by surprise, and it is not certain that there won’t be some sort of symbolic roll call at the Convention itself, even if the results are submitted to the party, as a result of voting breakfasts, in advance. There were plenty of delegates leaving with Hillary posters last night, but in the main, they mixed and chatted with the Obama supporters, and I didn’t see any tension or raised voices between the camps as they exited the Pepsi Center.
Tonight is Bill Clinton, introducing Joe Biden. Both could be fascinating moments, and the end of the third day is when the Obama campaign must be hoping that some sort of Convention bounce will appear in the polls. 6% would be standard, 3% disappointing, anything over 7% very good, and anything over 10% outstanding. I don’t think it will exceed 3%, even with Obama’s speech on Thursday, because unlike in previous years, the convention isn’t an ‘unveiling’ any more – the public knows more about Barack Obama at this stage than for any nominee previously. They already know whether or not they like him, and the bounce (if it appears at all) will be stunted if (as I expect) McCain announces his VP choice literally within hours of Obama’s speech at the Invesco Stadium finishing.
I’ll add another update on the DFA party later on this afternoon.
WEDNESDAY 27th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:35 Mountain Time
So last night, I went for a few drinks with David from Philadelphia and Guy from Crikey.com.au (an Australian living in New York), before the three of us headed over the the Democracy For America (DFA) reception at the Denver Chop House on 19th street.
The DFA was set up by Howard Dean back in 2004, out of the ashes of his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic Party nomination (it was originally Dean For America). It is a PAC (Political Action Committee) that trains and mobilises activists, as well as supporting progressive Democrats in their bids to become elected officials.
The current chair of DFA is Jim Dean, brother of the former Governor of Vermont. He has built a formidable organisation, with around three-quarters of a million members. Of the 4,400 or so delegates on the Convention Floor, around 1,500 are members of the DFA – and this is an organisation that doesn’t attract passive involvement. The purpose was to build a grass-roots army that would see more (and better) Democrats elected at all levels of government. I asked Jim Dean how big he thought the organisation could get, and he laughed. “What’s more important to me is effectiveness – that’s where it really sings…people go out and volunteer, get on the party staff, become county chairs, and so on.” I wondered if there was any friction between the ‘old school’ organisations that used to dominate the Democratic Party, such as the unions – “not so much the unions, we’re big friends of theirs, but we do come up against local and state party structures…I often describe it as a culture of activism versus a culture of incumbancy”.
Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy started with the DFA, pushing the party into non-traditional areas by enthusing citizen activists. Jim Dean’s mantra is ‘the party that empowers, is the party that will be in power’, and the training programme has been at the core of their work. They have trained over 25,000 people at two-day Training Academies (and taking care to help others find time around their full-time jobs, through Night Schools and so forth) in communications, media management, campaigning, and policy formulation.
The DFA also funds candidates it deems truly progressive – even overthrowing incumbent Democrats where necessary. In attendance was the most junior member of the House of Representatives, Donna Edwards (MD-04) who had replaced a Democratic Congressman who was so disgusted at being deposed in the primary election for 2008, that he resigned his seat to join a lobbying firm, allowing her to win the special election in June 2008. The ‘Dean Dozen‘ has been the list of prime candidates that the DFA has supported in each cycle, and its alumni include Senator Barack Obama, and Governors Brian Schweitzer (MT) and John Lynch (NH).
Three of the candidates that the DFA is supporting in this year’s US Senate Elections were in attendance to meet activists (and bloggers who managed to sneak an invite!). I didn’t get to speak to Scott Kleeb (the Senatorial candidate for Nebraska, considered politician most likely to play Superman in a future Hollywood movie), but did manage to catch a word with the other two Senatorial candidates.
Jeff Merkley is the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, and is in one of the closest races that the DSCC is funding – an attempt to unseat incumbent Republican Gordon Smith. I asked him how confident he was that he could win, and he told me that the political demographics were favourable. “The citizens of Oregon have the lowest opinion of Bush and Cheney of any state in the Union, and quite frankly what they see is that Gordon Smith has a 90% Bush-Cheney voting record, which is completely out of touch with the politics of the state.” There is confidence, too, that the Democrats will win 4 of the 5 seats in the US House, with only one race looking tight, and Kurt Schraeder being (in the Speaker’s opinion) one of the best Democratic candidates running in 2008. He’s proud of his progressive legislative agenda – the most progressive in the Union – on environment, fiscal responsibility, loan shark regulation, and civil rights. He recognises the limits of what can be done at the state-level, and so is focussed on ensuring that the Democrats increase their majority in the US Senate.
Oklahoma State Senator Andrew Rice is facing a huge uphill battle against Republican Jim Inhofe, one of the Senate’s more conservative figures. His academic background was Theology, before heading to Harvard for a Master’s degree. He is a newcomer to politics, and never considered that he would become politically active until his brother was killed in the attacks on September 11th. He was involved in the official 9/11 Commission, and virulently opposed the Iraq War on the grounds that it would deplete US forces in Afghanistan. His running was borne of the lack of accountability, but also “something we don’t talk a lot about in politics, but a lack of humility. There was something sort of arrogant about government, and they’re arrogant and incompetent. It would be one thing if they were arrogant and doing a good job but they’re not.”
Why was he a better choice for Senator than Jim Inhofe? He is determined to be gracious about his opponent, but pressed for a key fault, he relents: “he’s more interested in ideology than in good government…he’s really toed a pretty extreme line”. I wondered if he was concerned that the DSCC might not be able to provide funding all the way until November, given the number of (more) promising contests in 2008. Rice countered that the 50-state strategy is building a state party structure that will survive beyond this race, and is generating in-state funding that never existed before, and this means there can be some surprises. This, he feels, is evidenced by the stunning Special Election win in the Mississippi 1st district in May (as a result of Roger Wicker being appointed to the US Senate – he now faces former Governor Musgrove), and by the fact that a State Senator like himself could have risen from that position to President of the United States in under five years. He is convinced that this year will see a dramatic re-alignment in US politics, even though he admits “it will be hard for Barack Obama to win Oklahoma” (he combines a winning smile with a talent for understatement!).
The number of exciting and enthusiastic people at this party is difficult to record. A random encounter saw Dave’s friend Josh come and join us – he is the Co-Chair of the Obama Campaign in Philadelphia – and we suddenly realised that we had been at university together five years ago. Last time I saw him, he was barbequing Kosher beefsteaks with molasses and red-hot chillies, and now he was a fully fledged campaign manager. The drinks went long into the evening, and after a few more local beers (I can recommend ‘Fat Tire’) in a karaoke bar (amazingly, I was too busy talking to people to sing) I caught a $50 taxi back to my hotel.
Tonight, I have no idea what I’m doing beyond watching the speeches. I fancy a great Philly Cheesesteak and a decent bottle of wine – I’m hoping to catch Nate Silver from 538.com at some point as well, though his schedule is frantic as well. I’ll give another update tomorrow morning.
Good night, all!
THURSDAY 28th AUGUST 2008 @ 10:32 Mountain Time
Another ‘networking headache’ this morning, thanks to the insistence that beer be free and locally-brewed. Ever had an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) from Colorado? There’s a reason for that…
Let’s start with yesterday’s speeches. Bill Clinton was fantastic. I had forgotten that he was an orator – remembering the cheerful, retail politics image of him on the campaign trail rather than the Convention addresses. Some of the lines were very well crafted – someone else on here highlighted “the power of our example, not the example of our power” – and he made a compelling attack on Republicanism. I actually thought John Kerry spoke fairly well – he certainly exceeded my (somewhat subterranean) expectations by attacking John McCain’s foreign policy with more vigour than I ever remember him showing in 2004. He will never be one of the great performers, but he did well on the night.
The Democratic bloggers I watched the speeches with would probably not disagree with anything I’ve yet written, but we were forced apart in our responses to Joe Biden’s address. I thought it was a little stilting, a little forced, and that he looked uncomfortable – as though the burden of having lines given to him by the Obama campaign, rather that allowing him the extemporaneous spoutings to which he is more accustomed, had just registered with him. The theme of all these speeches was the same, but he delivered his with less passion than the others – he came across as tired and frustrated, more grumpy old man than Vice President to the sparkly Obama campaign.
This opinion, and the broader concern about over-confidence at the Convention, has been high on the list of interrogatory questions that Guy (from Australia’ Crikey.com.au) and I have been putting to the Dems we meet. The denial varies in form, but rarely in strength. Some remind us that one of the major functions of these events is to fire up the troops, but that concession aside, almost no-one is prepared to accept that Obama is anything other than the favourite, and that this will be a less competitive race than last time. The only sentence that I have uttered that has been less well-received than “do you think that you are being overconfident?” is when I introduced myself as PoliticalBetting’s Special Correspondent for Colonial Affairs.
I can see more clearly now than before why Biden was chosen, and I get that there might be reasons that barnstorming rhetoric wasn’t required or even expected of him last night. There will be people to whom he really appeals and the press seem strangely enamoured of him, but I still think that it was a disappointment with so many other strong candidates. The narrative, even amongst the less on-message netroots is that Biden was a great choice and proves Obama’s sound judgement. They may be proven right, but in the absence of a Convention Bounce (which we would really expect to see clearly by tomorrow) I can’t help feeling that this is something of a lull for his campaign. Guy reckons that the campaign hasn’t been the same since he won the primary, and we asked whether facing such an energetic campaign from Hillary Clinton was what gave his campaign the impetus to perform. McCain’s campaign is not giving Obama that challenge in the same way, and I think the real question is whether this is a lull that should concern Democrats, or whether this lull is timed to allow for a build to November. Playing Devil’s Advocate, I asked Guy what he would be saying at Minneapolis St Paul next week, and whether the flip-side of his criticism of the Democrats might be “McCain peaked too early”. We will see.
For those who like their political-theatre/gimmickry (delete according to taste, or lack thereof) we had two great moments yesterday – the sudden appearance on the floor by Hillary Clinton to move that Obama be made the nominee by acclamation (it passed), and Obama’s brief appearance after Joe Biden’s speech. They greeted him like a rock star, and the informality of his ‘few words’ went down very well, but I couldn’t help but wonder how it made him look compared to the rather sober addresses on national security that had preceded it. Both these events were expected (I heard a guy outside my hotel talking about the latter to a colleague on the phone that morning, and the Hillary thing was classic playbook, although I thought it was the only time she looked really upset about handing the nomination to him). One thing that I think the Democratic loyalists are correct upon is that the substantial Clinton-Obama split *in the party* is healed. Nobody could have asked more of the Clintons at this Convention – they have acquitted themselves admirably, and I think the process stories of separate camps will start to die out as the campaigns hit the road again.
I’m going to catch a bus to downtown (though I think I’ve missed the lecture by the Google CEO and new MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow at the Big Tent), and will hopefully manage to catch the elusive Nate Silver and Justin Webb. I’ll post a diary again this afternoon, covering the Bus Federation party (lots of Oregonians – same people as ‘Trick or Vote’), and a gathering at an Irish Pub downtown, where I met the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, as well as former Maryland Secretary of State and party chairman John Willis, and his guest – the Chairman of the German Green Party Reinhard Butikofer.
Catch you all later.
THURSDAY 28th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:01 Mountain Time
Yesterday evening was time to tour the Convention parties once again, so I headed off with a few guys from the Big Tent all the way over to 29th and Larimer. That won’t mean much to you, and it didn’t mean much to me for the first 35 minutes of our walk, but it became slowly apparent that a taxi might be required. Two quick words on taxis in Denver, when compared to our own beloved black cabs.
Firstly, there seems to be no qualifying requirement that the taxi driver be familiar with Denver, or the American road-traffic systems in general, prior to commencing work. Directions were required by our driver, and without our ongoing narrative of “Second Left”, “Keep going here”, “I think this is 28th street here”, I’m fairly sure that we never would have made it. The second feature of Denver taxis is that the light being on or off is either completely arbitrary or a function of the driver’s tips for the evening. Unlit cabs would stop (often with passengers already, trying to cram in an extra fare) and drivers with their lights on would look quizzically at pedestrians who, understanding the concept rather better, would in turn grow angry at the failure of the drivers to pick them up.
We finally made it to a Warehouse party organised by the Bus Foundation (who do the ‘Trick or Vote’ scheme), where drinks were being poured freely, and the band out in the yard had all their electricals powered by bicycles at the front of the stage (you could earn beer tickets for cycling to stop the music going accoustic). There were spray-painters doing ten-foot high murals, a room for DJs, and lots of people just milling around.
On today’s main thread (my hypothetical musings on Condoleezza Rice), Mike Smithson posted this link, saying that her name was in contention. Scroll up a little and there is a piece on the Convention Party Scene, which maintains that the parties are a little excluisive, and that the Delegates (plebs) are nowhere to be seen.
There’s some truth in that. Without a British accent, or friends met on the day, I wouldn’t have got into half the gatherings-with-drinks that I’ve attended, and the almost complete absence of delegates is noticeable. I think it can be explained two ways. The first is that many of the delegates are *also* working for pressure groups, or are bloggers, or work for lobbying organisations – when asked who they are and what brings them here, they tend to respond with their organisation rather than say that they are a delegate. Being a delegate gets you a ticket to the floor – it is an attractive prize for people who already have political and networking reasons for wanting to attend, and make it onto the Convention floor. If 20% of the
4,400 Convention delegates are Superdelegates, that leaves about 3,500. If only 40% of those (and I think that’s a conservative estimate) are otherwise-affiliated, then there are maybe only 2,000 Delegates who are not representing any other reason for attending. With over 50,000 people in Denver specifically for the Convention (maybe more, this evening), the ‘pure’ delegates are only 4% of attendees. No wonder you don’t see many out. The other aspect is that although their flights and hotel rooms *may* be paid for by their state party, they are the only people in the city (other than yours truly) without an expense account. Journalists, Lobbyists and Politicians can afford to go to twenty parties at swanky bars, and catch all the taxis in between because they aren’t bearing the cost. A pure delegate, without a well-paying job, might well consider that it’s not worth getting a $25 cab to see if you’re able to get into a party. Is there an exclusivity at work – yes, but it is as much financially insensitive as it is deliberately exclusionary.
My third party of the evening, after the BUs Federation and a party for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is planning to run for Governor of California in 2010. Kimberley, who represents the biggest solar energy company in the US, managed to get us into a party hosted by the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. I only spoke to him briefly – mostly small talk about how he was enjoying Denver – and then asked if he would mind doing a very brief interview. I think he would have said yes (it was 00:30 and the Irish bar we were in wasn’t charging for drinks) but his staff stepped in and said it was far too late for the Governor to be answering questions. I spoke to his Chief of Staff later, who had thought I was a journalist not a blogger, and seemed sorry to have been so quick to shut it down. He said to send through my questions by e-mail and he would get me answers from the Governor. We’ll see if that e-mail comes through – if so, I’ll publish the results here. If not, I’ll publish the e-mail address so you guys can ask for the answers you were promised!!
I spent the rest of the night talking to two exceedingly interesting gentlemen. Reinhard Butikofer is the Chairman of the Green Party in Germany, though he is planning to move to the European Parliament. We discussed South Ossetia (he blames the Georgians) and the League of Democracies (he is opposed) and, of course, the Lisbon Treaty. The Greens are completely pro-European, but would not support the superstate. He actually was the second person on this trip to say that the problem with the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty was that they were effectively the same, but even the former wasn’t a Constitution – the pretensions of Valery Giscard D’Estaing gave it that title, when all it ever was supposed to be was a clean-up of treaties. He maintains that Lisbon expands the democratic remit of the European Parliament compared to Nice, and so should have been passed for the sake of transparency and democracy. Again, he felt that only at a European level could things like Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) be addressed.
He was attending as the guest of John T. Willis, former Maryland Secretary of State, former Maryland state party chair, and a former member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. Now teaching at the University of Baltimore, he still does electoral and polling work, but decries the political consultancy polling that he feels is driven by revenue, not high theoretical standards.
We discussed how this election might be understood, and he was one of the few Democrats here to understand the fears of overconfidence, but could not contemplate that an on-the-ground organisation as good as Obama’s could possibly fail to win. He quoted the ‘Jack W Base’ (though not calling it that) saying that switching 19,000 votes in 2004 would have given Kerry Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada and thus the Presidency.
For John, electing the President is the most personal vote most Americans will ever make. Local elections have dismal turnout, and people don’t care enough to find out about obscure candidates. But for all the policy in the world, he noted that a beer glass with a Democrat rosette could win 70% of Democratic voters. The number of swayable voters is comparitively small, and it is they who decide on personality – explaining the ‘folksiness’ vote for George W Bush in 2000. I suggested that this election, then, would either be a referendum on McCain, or a referendum on Obama, to which he concurred. I’ve had an excellent article from Keiran on this, and the strategic dilemma it poses for Obama’s campaign, which I will try and run in the next week or so.
I have so far not managed to get a pass to the Invesco Field event, and am not that surprised. Security is going to be unspeakable, and I would have to go now, and get out in about 6 hours, which stops me from trying to get in without a ticket. For the time being, my focus is on having a decent steak, and getting a good seat in the Big Tent for the speech, before heading out for one more night of partying. The carnival closes tomorrow – heaven help anyone off to do another week of this in St Paul.
FRIDAY 29th AUGUST 2008 @ 02:16
Just to say that I did make it into the stadium, and I will be posting a full diary on it tomorrow, but for now, I desperately need to sleep. I am shattered, but buzzing!
FRIDAY 29th AUGUST 2008 @ 12:14 Mountain Time
So, morning has broken, and as predicted below the Republican VP announcement has been made to steal the thunder of the Obama speech. An obvious but clever move, heightened by an exciting choice in Sarah Palin. One of those classic nights (nights for me anyway) where the pb.com thread was really at its very best, catching all the fluctuations of an exhilarating market. One for Mike’s next book I suspect…
Where did I leave you? At 5pm Mountain Time (about midnight BST) I figured that I had a couple of hours before I needed to live-blog the speech at Big Tent. Part of me wondered if I could sneak into Invesco Field at Mile High, and part of me thought being refused entry would actually be a bit dispiriting, so I decided to go for some food. I went west down Wynkoop, and wandered up 15th until I saw a pedestrian sign to Invesco, and (being a little surprised that it was walking distance – it looks far away) I decided to give it a go.
There is a whole new level of craziness – ‘bad craziness’ as Dr Hunter S Thompson would say – as soon as you go West of the Pepsi Center. There were Christian Fundamentalist protesters, and more badge/t-shirt/watch/foamhand sellers than I had ever seen, and I live near Camden. It is a long walk – 25 minutes, plus crowd congestion time – and west of 14th street there is nothing that shades you from the bright Colorado Sun, except for when you pass beneath the Freeway. It was under the Interstate bridge, that some police officers and Secret Service were guarding the pedestrian crossing over the rails of the Denver Light Railway. I decided to ask one uniformed officer and one man in suit-and-earpiece combo, whether there was any way a member of the press (yeah, I know…) might acquire a spare credential. I explained I had come 6,000 miles from the UK, and was eager not to miss this. I thought, at best, that I might be passed up to a more senior security person, but the officer told me to go and speak to the guy in the tan T-shirt and baseball cap. I assumed he was some sort of officer as well, but as I drew near, I realised that I had been directed to a ticket tout by a policeman.
There must have been a couple of hundred other people holding up their fingers in the international symbol for “this is how many tickets I need”, yet a complete absence of sellers. I had considered this possibility when walking down past Pepsi, but couldn’t see anyone selling, and so dismissed the idea. Who in their right minds would have given these tickets to a tout, and wouldn’t even ticket touts want to go in? I didn’t get his name, but he was selling goods for a charity/not-for-profit (I assume he was telling the truth – why lie? I was going to get the ticket anyway) and had only one or two customers in spite of the hundreds milling around hopefully. Clarice and Barbara (who asked me to post a ‘hello’ to their friend Audrey in Totting-ham – not as much of an “OMG, you’re from London, do you know John?” moment as it sounds) had travelled from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to be in Denver. The guy had three credentials left, and wouldn’t name a price – “how much are you offering?” he kept asking them. In frustration, they wouldn’t say, so he turned to me. I said he could have all the cash I had on me (no ATMs for miles), thinking he would laugh at my feeble offer – I had only $50 in cash in my wallet, and was expecting him to demand many times that ($350 was the number floating around in my head). He accepted and took my money, telling me to stay there and he would be back in a moment. That emboldened Clarice to offer $60 for two, which he apparently also accepted later on that evening, but I had no objections to paying less than Â£30 to see something this historic. I can’t go to a gig at the Roundhouse for that little.
It occurred to me, even before I handed over my cash, that this might be a scam. I’ve never bought from a ticket tout before, and assumed the worst – either that he would vanish, or that the Credential would be a fake replica. But, true to his word, he returned from his van a few minutes later, and handed me the ticket to seat 610 in block 530 of the Invesco Field at Mile high to watch Barack Obama accept his party’s nomination for President of the United States.
There was that ‘heart in mouth’ moment at each checkpoint – mostly manned by volunteers. I was carrying my laptop bag, so came under a reasonable degree of scrutiny, as well as two bag searches (including a metal detector and baggage x-ray). The heat was intense – even at 6:30pm local time the sun had real warmth in a clear sky, and the altitude makes dehydration a real issue. There were volunteers handing out free iced water along the route (a local group of churches had decided this was the way that they could be most service to the community, so had given up their day) but in spite of that, there were a couple of people who were being carried out of the stadium on stretchers, and taken to the medical tent on golf-buggies. The ground floor of the stadium was covered in burger and beer outlets, as well as ‘official’ merchandising shops and hot-dog stands. More than one person said this was just like attending an American football or baseball game, perhaps understandably given that this is the home of the Denver Broncos.
I arrived in time to see Tim Kaine take the stage, though finding a seat (it was open seating) meant that I missed anything insightful that he said. I heard someone call my name, and realised that I recognised someone – Eddie from Turn Maine Blue, Maine’s official state blogger (on the Convention Floor) whom, I had met at the DFA party the other evening. His initial reaction to the event was the surprise with quite how well-organised it had been, and we spent the few hours waiting for Obama picking apart the speeches and enjoying the subtleties.
The Stadium acceptance is not normal – JFK was the last one to do it in 1960 – and it brings its own challenges. Speakers have to comprimise in the meter of their speeches – a small applause interruption will last three times longer than in the convention hall, and it is harder to continue over cheering, because of the unbelievable volume that the crowd can generate. Another problem is the crowd refrain – chants, singing along to the songs, and clapping are much harder to co-ordinate in a big space. I was reminded of the old adage about Cardiff Arms Park having the best singing voices in the world, but that the variation between stands ensured that there were usually a couple of different musical keys, and at least seven different speeds. How to ensure that ‘Born in the USA’ sees clapping only on the off-beat, and that the gathered hordes keep time like a metronome? They decided to use the perimeter lights flashing beneath the third tier to hold everyone in check – you clapped in time with the light, which kept the whole thing together.
The first speaker I got to listen to properly was Bill Richardson, whom I like a great deal, and I hope will be offered Secretary of State if Obama wins. His most memorable line was that “John McCain’s shoes cost $400 – we can’t afford his flip-flops” – though more than one person in my earshot said they felt guilty at being able to use the ‘flip-flop’ jibe against the Republicans, rather than vice-versa. The New Mexican Governor was followed by Stevie Wonder, prompting a joke nearby about giving the teleprompter guys a break to have a beer. He lit up a crowd that was only just approaching full-capacity at about 7pm. The sun was beginning to go down, with some remarkable sunsets (to which my photography could not possibly do justice) burning the tops of the Rockies just in view over the sixth tier, and making of the Secret Service snipers a set of striking silhouettes (did you notice my hat-tip to Spiro Agnew there?).
Stevie Wonder was followed by Al Gore (Obama’s thinking probably being if you’re going to be thought of as a celebrity anyway, why not embrace it?) who reminded me why he was a perfect VP, and why he didn’t beat George W Bush. He is not a compelling speaker, though he cuts a phenomenal presence and is clearly dearly loved by the party. Other than the Biden and Obama families, no-one got a bigger cheer. Gore went on too long in my opinion – true believers said that the speakers were deliberately holding back to make Obama seem even more powerful – I’m not so sure. The build was well-executed, as you would see at a top-level business event, but I don’t think anyone ever had to tell Gore or Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) to hold back. They are competent, compelling speakers, but not stadium-suited in the same way as the nominees.
Biden followed Gore (with an interlude for a range of Generals and Admirals who were supporting Obama), and gave a decent reprise of his VP acceptance speech, which will no doubt be the basis of his stump speech on the campaign – “Teachers and Firefighters, Soldiers and Assembly-line workers”. Keeping the thematic fit, he introduced (I think) 5 ‘ordinary citizens’ from key swing states (MI, FL, NM, NC (!) etc) and professions to talk about why they were supporting Obama. From my perspective, and Eddie next to me agreed, this was the master stroke of the evening. They were in prime-time, speaking after the VP nominee, and were designed to reach right into the front rooms of the 38 million voters watching.
I cannot remember all of them, but they began with a Teamster from Michigan, Roy Gross, who was one of the best, most natural unflashy speakers of the convention. My personal favourite was nurse Pamela Cash-Roper – a Republican voter from Pittsboro, North Carolina (which clearly the Dems consider swingable) – who admitted (in front of almost 80,000 Democrats) that she had voted for Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush. She and her husband had had a business and a decent house, college funds for the kids, and savings. They had health insurance, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the bills when her husband needed heart surgery. Taking an extra job to pay the excess ended in her having a quadruple bypass only a couple of years later. The bills had crippled them, and they were left with nothing.
The worst speaker of the American Voices Program [sic] was Barney Smith, and yet he delivered the best line and received his own chant (“Bar-ney! Bar-ney!”) from the floor. From Marion County, Indiana, he had been a manufacturing worker before losing his job. He will get plenty of coverage for a line that will make him personally famous: “We need a President who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney!” [Smith Barney is an investment bank in the US].
I think introductory videos are awfully corny, and there was a danger that this use of regular people with whom voters could easily identify could backfire, but it didn’t. It was the most sublime moment of the entire evening, up until Obama came out. It was politically astute, it was perfectly executed (though not too perfectly) and distilled everything that the Obama campaign wants to be into a handful of characters. If you get a chance, go and watch them again on YouTube – I don’t know how British sensibilities would see it from a removed distance, but there was a real feeling in the stadium that this was a brilliant piece of political theatre and the best way in which the message could be delivered to a televisual audience.
Senator Dick Durbin followed, a recognition of his early help and support I’m sure, before the mandatory biographical video of Obama himself. I hate these things, as do the television networks who just consider them unpaid advertising, but they fulfill a function. In spite of an 18-month campaign already behind us, in which many of us feel as though we know everything about the candidates except the names of their teddy bears, I was reminded that maybe 100 million potential voters know nothing about him other than that he is black, running for President, and might be a Muslim. You don’t waste a 38-million-viewer moment to reset the record. I’m sure you’ll be able to find it on YouTube if you want – it is a better example of the genre than most, but still feels a little sentimental. By the beginning of the video, displayed on the three massive scoreboards, the sun had finally fallen behind the Rockies, and the campaign had complete control of lighting – one reason for him speaking as late as he did, I suspect.
I was wondering how they would introduce him. Had I been running the event (if only) I would have blacked out the stadium, and played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare to the Common Man”, letting him approach the podium about 90 seconds into it in a single spotlight. As it was, the drama was high, but the edges less demarcated – the video ended, everyone strained to see the doorway in the Greco-Roman structure (which in fairness, when finished, was less obvious on TV than the Drudge photo had led me to believe), and suddenly an almighty cheer went up, as the junior Senator from Illinois approached the podium.
That roar was unforgettable – I can’t think of another that has ever come as close. I’ve been at major sporting events, but even the biggest cheer is diffused because it is for a disparate group of athletes. This was the most focussed, direct, desperate howl of appreciation I have ever heard. They were euphoric, but beneath that perhaps nervous – the event had kept the temperature just beneath boiling point for him. That was sensible, if planned, but meant that anything less than a big performance would be a serious opportunity missed, even if it did little harm.
I think he knocked it out of the park. It wasn’t his best rhetorical performance (that honour goes to Boston at the 2004 Convention, or perhaps the night of the Iowa caucus), but it did its job better than any speech he has given, except maybe the race speech after the Rev Jeremiah Wright affair. It was, deliberately and ostentatiously, more policy focussed than many of these addresses – policy normally belongs to the smaller town-hall events or local fetes – and designed to reassure that there was more here than empty hope and aspiration. Forty-five years after ‘I have a dream’, Obama’s message was ‘I have a plan’: $150 billion for alternative energy, including clean coal (goes down *very* well in Colorado); a tax-cut (made very clear) for more than 95% of working families; deficit reduction and universal health coverage. Someone in the Times said that, unlike the 1992 Democratic platform, there was nothing new in this speech – it didn’t change the direction of the Party platform. This was, in the article, considered a weakness, but that misses the point. There was nothing wrong with the 1992 platform, and with respect to domestic policy it is still attractive to millions of Americans, for the simple reason than it was never instituted in any meaningful way.
In ‘The Right Nation’ the GHW Bush and Clinton years are run together as follows: four years of Conservative underreach (1989-1993), two years of Liberal overreach (Hillarycare – 1993-1995), and then following Newt Gingrich’s ‘Contract With America’, two years of Conservative overreach (1995-1997) then four years of Liberal underreach (1997-2001) completing the political palindrome. The Clinton era was reasonably peaceful, and economically prosperous, but they never dared institute, or could never institute, the key planks – universal health coverage, environmentally-friendly energy independence, and a resurrection of the public education system. They are still in the platform because they were never achieved anything like in full. If Speaker Pelosi presides over a House of Representatives with 250-260 Democrats, and Harry Reid can claim to hold almost 60 Senate seats (including Lieberman and Sanders), then a Democratic President in the White House in January could do much, much more than was ever possible for Clinton-Gore to accomplish.
If you already dislike or mistrust Obama, then this wouldn’t turn you around; if already a fan, then you will have loved every minute of this event. But for the waverers, and those for whom times have been to hard to bother with a political campaign, I honestly think that this will have hit home. All week I have been challenging Democrats, trying to make them see the level of their overconfidence, re-enforced by the bubble effect of Convention-week. To sit in that stadium, I could see why they felt optimistic. This is a phenomenal campaign – not for its rhetoric, or even the candidate (though both are exceptional) – but for the quality of the political organisation. The extra voters registered, the get-out-the-vote strategies, the fundraising, the rapid-response website, the support of a united party, the sheer number of volunteers and activists, and the daring to go after voters who have been forgotten in the South and Mountain region, this is truly an exceptional campaign.
I posted on the main thread last night:
“When Daily Kos ran a series of articles by its leader writers, each picking a previous election with which to draw parallels, I though they missed the most apposite of them all. Re-reading Hunter S Thompsonâ€™s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail â€˜72, you realise that this coalition of under-25s, African-Americans, anti-war activists and insurgent activists is not new, but that unlike in 1972 they have an electric candidate and a truly professional organisation that can translate that euphoria into votes in a more effective way than ever before.
Also, by making peace with the Party establishment (working with the Clintons, choosing Biden, getting the Kennedy endorsements), they are avoiding the worst mistakes that McGovern made – picking an unreliable entity for VP, and alienating the party machine (Mayor Daley and the Union masters like George Meany).”
The problem, of course, is that McGovern lost by 49 states to 1 (he only won Massachusetts and Washington DC), and that failing to win the industrial, blue collar voters of the Rust Belt or Appalachia hurt him fatally. That is why Biden has been selected. If Obama can’t win with these advantages, and these safeguards, then it will dramatically reduce the number of ways in which a candidate can win the Presidency of the United States. In choosing Obama and McCain, and they in turn choosing Biden and Palin, both parties and both campaigns have shown that they are prepared to take risks to tilt at victory. In the case of the Republicans, they had nothing to lose by going for the maverick Senator and a young female Governor. For the Democrats, this would be snatching defeats from beneath the tonsils of victory. If Obama loses in November, forget political risk-taking on this scale for at least a generation.
I had one of the best nights of my life at Invesco Field, finished off with a great meal at Gumbo’s on the corner of Wazee and 16th in Downtown. Having had nothing but sandwiches and pizza and burritos all week, I tucked into a Peppered pork tenderloin with sauteed crab, sweet potato and parsnip filligree, with dirty rice on the side, and a great Pinot Noir from California. I didn’t want to eat with anyone – I wanted to sit and mull on a wonderful night, and a fantastic week. I’ll write a full retrospective at some point when I return, but that speech sealed a truly great trip. Vacation-planning for the conventions in four years’ time starts next week.
Thanks for reading – I hope this has given a slightly different perspective on the Convention that you would get from the traditional media, or even from just posting on the main threads. There are some things I would do differently, but maybe not that many. This has been a great week, and without PoliticalBetting.com it wouldn’t have been either possible, or worth doing. My thanks to Mike and to you all.
This is Morus, reporting for PoliticalBetting.com, from the Democratic National Convention 2008, in Denver, Colorado. Over and Out.
FRIDAY 29th AUGUST 2008 @ 15:13 Mountain Time
I’ve posted my photos from Invesco Stadium at Mile High on a separate page (link on the right of the page, or click here)
SUNDAY 31st AUGUST 2008 @ 11:34 British Summer Time
SO after 14 hours travelling, and about 20 hours asleep, Morus is back in North London, appreciating croissants and rainweather. I thought I’d close off the Denver Diary with a brief summary of the flight back, and a couple of paragraphs’ worth of retrospective on the whole trip.
Denver airport is awesome, and having free WiFi is something I would like to see in all airports – having (limited and slow) access to PB.com and e-mail meant that I was almost a little annoyed to have to go and board my plane. I could have done with another hour or so of waiting. Draw your own conclusions about the airport environment from that!
My seat on the flight was directly behind former Chairman of the Conservative Party Chairman, Francis Maude, who admitted that PoliticalBetting.com is on his list of top four/five daily reads – I thought it would be out of order to ask any questions about his successor, but we did talk briefly about who had come across to Denver – as well two Tory MPs, the Conservative delegation included people like Steve Hilton and Tim Boles. When Iain Dale, in Friday’s Telegraph, said that the Conservative party should look to Republican strategists to learn how to use the internet better, I suggested on his comments thread that he would do better to look to the Democratic Party. Seems CCHQ were a step ahead of us both. Having confirmed with Chris Rennard that the Lib Dems weren’t sending anyone to Minneapolis-St Paul, I thought I’d ask the same of the Conservatives, and was told several of them would be in attendance at the RNC, led by Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague.
I actually really enjoyed the flight home – watched three movies, failed to sleep, read some books, and thought the BA food was actually pretty darn good under the circumstances. The train journey back was dispiriting – even the Heathrow Express to Paddington struggles on the weekends, and that short journey took over an hour and a quarter. Taxi from Paddington to home seemed the only reasonable journey.
So a retrospective: was it all worth it? There are two perspectives: personal and journalistic. Personally, especially not having taken more than a week’s holiday for years, it was fantastic to be out of the UK in such an exciting environment. I will never forget being in that stadium on that evening, and I relished the company of the hundreds of fascinating people I met whilst I was over there.
Journalistically it is harder to say, and that judgement is probably better made by Mike or PB.com readers. I hope you got a different perspective of what was going on from my diary – compared to what many expense-account members of the professional lobby (in terms of volume, if not content) I think my 25,000 words covered many of the questions you were asking and several I suspected no-one was asking.
‘Access’ is the subject that dominates anyone’s attempt to report on the Conventions. For the top tier – Governors, Senators, and the entourage of the Executive Branches (past and future) – members of the MSM, including the White House and Westminster lobbies are lucky to get face time. Congressmen and Mayors are easier, but by no means simple to approach. I’m fairly satisfied with my haul of grip’n’grins – the Governor of Maryland, Senators from Ohio and Vermont, a couple of Congresswomen, the Chair of DFA, Markos Moulitsas, and (most importantly for me) the new generation US Senate Candidates (OK, OR, and NE).
The Big Tent was a great success that made the time worthwhile – nothing can match access to the Convention Center itself, but the Big Tent was as good a substitute as would be possible under the circumstances. I gave out a couple of hundred business cards for PB.com and was surprised at how many of the top-tier bloggers had heard of us – hopefully that number will increase, and we will begin to see the traffic-build that was one of my (many) reasons for wanting to attend. The Digg stage upstairs saw the White House Chief of Staff, the new MSNBC anchor, the CEO of Google, Arianna Huffington, and many other great speakers. We were well located, and the quality of people working at the sharp end of political campaigns cannot be overstated. If we can import even a sliver of learning from the activist movement in the US, we will have done very well indeed.
Thank you for reading. Without Mike and PB.com, I wouldn’t have been able to get the Big Tent credential that made of this possible. I’m sorry not to be able to do the same for the Republican Convention, but finances simply do not allow! In four years’ time, with all assumptions made, I will be doing everything I can to repeat this trip, maybe from inside the Convention Centre itself.
And with that, the gavel comes down on Morus’ Denver Diary 2008. Until next time…