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Sunday | March 16, 2003

CDP convention, Day 2; Dean cleans up

This is long. Be forewarned. For those joining us late, Jerome Armstrong and I are attending the California Democratic Party's annual conference as fully credentialled members of the press.


Friday (p.m.)
I was going to write more about Friday, but I had nothing else to say. Really, the more I thought about Kerry's speech, the less impressed I was.

In all fairness, it wasn't his fault. The sound system sucked and half the convention floor couldn't hear his speech, so there was little in the way of crowd interaction. It was impossible for Kerry to connect. So other than the two dozen supporters the campaign trucked in, there was little audience excitement.

And he made a really bad joke about his prostate -- something about beeing the first president without a prostate, but it would be okay because we already had a vice president without a heart. Ugh. I don't even want to hear the word "prostate".

Oh, and Kerry claimed Democrats needed to be Democrats, not Republican Lite. This would prove a popular phrase, the irony lost on those senators busy being "Republican-Lite" the past two years (Edwards being the other).

Kerry did look good, however. He seemed "presidential". He had good zingers and applause lines sprinkled throughout his speech. But ultimately, it was a flop. He was supposed to occupy a position of honor at the convention, but instead got screwed by factors out of his control.

Saturday (a.m.)
Edwards spoke. He looked good. Spoke well. But ultimately, his speech was underwhelming. Many in the press pit asked each other "why is he running again?"

He kept the crowd engaged perhaps the first half of the speech. In addition to some good one-liners ("If you're going to pull down patriots like Max Cleland over homeland security, the least you can do is improve homeland security"), Edwards made an impassioned and very effective defense of his trial advocacy -- daring Bush to make a campaign issue of it. I pictured Edwards running campaign ads featuring the many families Edwards has helped. Could be effective.

But then Edwards spoke in support of the Iraq war and all hell broke loose. The entire convention hall resonated in boos, the crowd chanting "no war! No war!" It was an amazing sight, and Edwards seemed a bit taken aback. Jerome thought it looked like '68. Edwards recovered with a line about Ashcroft, but the damage was done. The 20 or so brave souls waving Edwards signs were suddenly radioactive.

After a string of California officials, including the detested Davis, Boxer and Pelosi (the latter two my heroes), it was Dean's turn.

By now, the whole program was running about an hour late. It was noon, and restless delegates milled around wondering about lunch. It seemed like a bad start by Dean. But suddenly, easily over half the delegates (and there were roughly 1,600) started waving Dean signs. And from the first note he didn't disappoint.

He started by blasting Bush's invasion, and the crowd was instantly hooked. It was electrifying. The whole convention center hushed, hanging on his every words (only Rep. Maxine Waters had a similar effect). Dean raised the rhetoric gradually, drawing louder applause each time. People were loving it. He uttered Wellstone's line: "I'm here to represent the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party". People went wild. His speech was repeatedly interrupted by chants of "we want Dean!".

But the most amazing part was the finale, with a fiery Dean pounding the podium:

I want my country back!

I don't want to listen to fundamentalist preachers anymore!

When Dean uttered this last line, the whole place went nuts. Utter pandemonium. It was literally one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but as of now, Dean's the one.

One of the benefits of sporting press credentials was hearing the press chatter. I heard "he's too short", "he's too liberal", and "he reminds me of Jesse Jackson -- gives good speeches but there's nothing else there." But at the same time, there were other voices saying "he's different", or "he's got a good chance".

Jerome and I mossied back into the press room for sandwiches. We ended up sitting with the Houston Chronicle's Cragg Hines, and got in a spirited discussion about the Estrada nomination. Adam Clymer joined us. Another longtime political journalist said Dean's speech was the best he had heard in 20 years.

We attended a press conference with Pelosi and Rep. Matsui -- the new head of the Democratic Congressional Coordinating Committee. Jerome got a question in, asking what California congressional districts the Dems would target in 2004. Matsui didn't answer ("we don't want to tip our hands"). So by my reckoning, Jerome was not only the first blogger to ask a question in a major party news conference, but also the first to have a non-answer response.

One good bit of news -- the DCCC is raising about $100,000 a day -- which would give them $60 million to spend through election day 2004. They raised almost half that -- $35 million -- in the 2002 cycle. Also, the DCCC plans a new strategy -- targeting Republicans in districts with favorable Dem demographics, rather than GOP incumbents they deem "vulnerable". There's a difference, one which I will examine in further detail in a future post.

Sharpton was the last speaker for the day, and like Dean, he rocked the house. I'm fully convinced that Sharpton is a positive for the Democrats -- proving wrong initial fears he would divide the party.

Indeed Sharpton is the king of the one-liners.

On the costs of occupying Iraq: "We already occupy 50 states, and we haven't come up with the cost of that".

On affirmative action: "The best example of a set-aside program is Bush. How can I say that? The Supreme Court set aside a whole election to make him president."

On religious wingnuts: "It's time for the Christian Right to meet the right Christians."

But most interesting of all? Sharpton never once said "vote for me" or "I'm running for president". He's in the race to move the debate left, and he's doing a beautiful job of it.

One footnote: Carol Moseley-Braun was sighted aimlessly wandering the convention hall both Friday and Saturday. The only reason people showed up to her press conference is because we were tricked into thinking Pelosi was coming earlier. The poor woman gets zero respect.


We will be back at the convention Sunday to see Kucinich speak. More on that later.

Posted March 16, 2003 01:49 AM | Comments (119)


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