Saturday, April 26, 2008

2nd District Democratic Dispatches

2nd District Democratic Dispatches

Statewide National Delegate Split: Obama 16, Clinton 9, Edwards 4; Obama Gains 1 Delegate in 4th CD
Harkin: Staying Neutral, Don't Count Rulebreaking States, Abolish Superdelegates

Iowa Independent's John Deeth is at the 2nd Congressional District Democratic Convention, with live updates throughout the day and night. At 3 p.m. a rules committee member estimated from the podium that the convention will last until at least 10:30 p.m.

At 3:30, the numbers were officially released: Obama 297, Clinton 169, Edwards 107. Obama gained two from the county convention, Clinton lost two, Edwards was unchanged. That translates into a national delegate split of Obama 4, Clinton 2, Edwards 1. "Five hours of waiting for no change" says Edwards chair Dave Redlawsk.

9:00 AM and the convention is close to convening. The Edwards group is moving out of the main hall to convene in a side room. Clinton and Obama efforts are well in evidence. There was a heated flag pin argument in an aisle between a Obama backer and a couple Clinton supporters; more on that as the opportunity arises.

The chairs are piling up with flyers for national delegate candidates, mostly from Team Obama:

  • Former state House leader Dick Myers of Johnson County

  • nurse Pauline Taylor also of Johnson

  • Faith Wilmot of Solon

  • Faith Bromwich, also Johnson County

  • Christy Mach of Linn County

  • Paul Osterholt of North Liberty

  • Sally Williams of Linn County

    Obama will likely elect four delegates, two men and two women (elections for male delegate and female delegate are held separately).

    The only flyer for a Clinton delegate so far is from Justin Shields, a Cedar Rapids labor leader and city council member. Team Hillary will probably elect one man and one woman.

    Edwards is expected to elect one male delegate; political science professor Dave Redlawsk is Johnson County's candidate. These contests often come down to the relative strength of counties, but a strong candidate, such as Myers, can draw cross-county support.

    9:55 and Harkin just finished speaking; see separate story.

    In addition to the hight profile delegate and state central committee races, one other job that's chosen here is presidential elector. Well, that's what people call it, anyway. It's actually the Democratic candidates for elector; you only get to be an actual elector, one of the 538 people who actually vote for president, if the Democrats win Iowa. Slayton Thompson of Cedar Rapids is running and has done the job before; he has an entire collection of old campaign pins on his vest.

    Another national delegate candidate has emerged in the Obama camp: Peggy Whitworth of Cedar Rapids.

    "It looks better percentage-wise for Hillary that it did in Linn County," says Justin Shields, comparing strength at the county and district conventions. Obama was strong in Linn County; Clinton's strength was in the souther part of the district. Shields isn't looking ahead to the fall campaign yet: "we've got too many primaries in Linn County."

    Just under the surface, there's a few simmering tempers. Clinton supporter Barbara Seinfeld of Fairfield complains about the People for Peace and Justice in the Middle East table. "She's misrepresenting the truth. There is no such thing as Palestine. It's Israel." She says Clinton's support of Israel is "a major reason" she's supporting the New York senator.

    While I'm at it, let's get back to that flag fight in the aisle. "It torques my jaw" that Obama doesn't wear a flag pin, said Tom Hill of Fairfax. "All my Republican friends are talking about it."  Hill says he won't vote for Obama in the fall and will instead vote for "somebody white."  He says that's different than saying he won't vote for a black candidate.

    Cathy Tullis of Wapello County is also upset about the flag, but not as vehement as Hill. "Of course" she'll vote for Obama if he's the candidate, "but that doesn't mean I'll be happy." Neither Tullis or Hill was wearing a pin.

    10:30. Alternate seating time. "Not everyone is being seated," yells DJ Arnold, meaning Obama will fill all his seats.

    "We went through the smallest and furthest counties first," says Obama group chair Sue Dvorsky. "If a small county had five or six people, we tried to seat two or three. We tried to gender balance. We split up couples so one of you can go."

    "We know we're viable," says Edwards chair Dave Redlawsk. Seating's not done but Redlawsk thinks Edwards also has more alternates than seats.

    10:54 Team Hillary also says they have all their seats filled. All three campaigns did triage in advance and ranked their alternates; the higher-ranked alternates were seated first. Objectivity disclaimer: My name turned up at #15 on the Obama list so now I'm a delegate. Won't let it compromise my journalistic integrity.

    The math has not been announced but it appears the Obama 4, Clinton 2, Edwards 1 math will hold. "Nothing will change unless there's a few traitors," says Tom Carsner of Team Edwards, who offers colorful suggestions on what should be done to traitors.

    11:00 and candidates for state central committee are speaking. Another national delegate candidate pops up; Marcus Perkins of Iowa City.

    "We're trying to keep the scratches down to a minimum," says convention chair Norm Sterzenbach Sr., extending Harkin's cat metaphor. The convention is at ease for lunch at 11:30, and the lunchroom-lobby is jammed while the hall is nearly empty.

    Norm is running for state central committee, as is Al Bohanan of West Branch. "Sharon Savage is a great candidate," says Bohanan of the challenger in Senate District 40. "(GOP incumbent) Jim Hahn should be worried."

    High noon. Edwards supporter Paul Deaton of Solon, counting the lunch money, says he doesn't expect any Edwards defectors. "At the (Johnson) county convention, you practically had to testify you were staying with Edwards," he sais. "That was a key concern when we went to vote." In Johnson, Obama and Clinton elected delegates through the put your hand down to be an alternate system, but the Edwards group went to the pre-printed strips of numbered paper that old convention hands call "railroad ballots." "They used to be in double rows like a railroad track," explains Paul Osterholt of North Liberty.

    At the People for Peace and Justice in the Middle East table, I catch the other side of Barbara Seinfeld's story. "This woman came by and ripped our sign down," said Bill Pusateri. "Another woman brought it back and apologized." Everyone at the table says they support Obama, though some are reluctant to make this a candidate vs. candidate thing.

    "You don't expect behavior like that from a Democratic crowd," said Pusateri. "It's childish and disrespectful."

    12:30 and back in business. Credentials announces all 573 seats are filled. Never happened ever before. Mount Vernon's hometown hero Dave Loebsack is on site and scheduled to speak soon.

    Tom Hill, who made the very strongly worded comments about Obama this morning, catches me in the bathroom. "I shouldn't have talked to you," he says, with a tone of regret. But in the end, he says, "I said what I meant."

    Tim Judd of North Liberty, also a Clinton supporter, is more positive. "The party will need to unite, and that's what we'll do" if Clinton is not the candidate.  Judd says the mood is good in the Clinton camp. "The superdelegates will work in our favor in the end."

    12:43 and Loebsack is on.

    "If we can get 573 people to a district convention, I'm not all that concerned, because it means we have a lot of people ready to elect a Democrat to the White House."

    "Proud of our whole Democratic delegation"; namechecks Boswell among the rest.

    "Things are moving in the right direction in Iowa, the question now is are we going to improve on the majority in the House of Representatives, and build the majority in the Senate?  The last thing we want is John McCain. We need either Barack or Hillary."

    "No matter who wins  the nomination, we're going to be unified. We can't afford 4 or 8 more years of George W. Bush. I want a president who won't veto the legislation we passed."

    Pushing timelines on Iraq. "We need a recommitment to Afghanistan, because that's really where the problems are."

    "It took 10 years to reauthorize Head Start. It took a new Congress."

    "Whether it's Hillary or Barack, SCHIP is going to be fully funded."

    "No matter what happens, Iowa is going to stay first in the nation.  Whether it's Barack or Hillary, we did our job in Iowa on Jan. 3" Scattered applause when he mentioned being a Bill Bradley national delegate in 2000. He namechecks "the bloggers here in the front row."

    "I want you to be behind the Democratic nominee, whether it's he or she, to finish what we started in 2006."

    Norm Sterzenbach Sr. "Now you've heard from 4 of our 11 superdelegates. Do you still believe the media when they call these people crazy people in the back room?"

    At 1:26 the convention is in stall mode, hearing from presidential campaign surrogates. From Team Hillary, it's former secretary of state Elaine Baxter; attorney Steve Sovern is representing for Obama. Seems like an odd use of time: with the most committed of the most attended in attendance, ain't nobody changin' their minds. Still no Official announcement of the alignment count. It looks like a long day, folks.

    One possible reason for the stall is a labor caucus, where they're shaking out the surplus of state central committee candidates.

    And there's even more national delegate candidates for Obama: Veronica Tessler of Iowa City, Fred Seay of Lee County. The convention debates how long the Edwards speaker can speak... for longer than the Edwards speaker actually speaks.

    "They were trying to count automated and it didn't work," Dave Redlawsk tells me, unofficially of course. The delay seems to be getting exact totals from the preference groups, even though everybody seems to know who's where. "I hope they can count the voting ballots faster that the preference ballots," says Redlawsk, with a be-sure-to-write-that wag of the finger.

    Yet another Obama national delegate candidate: Dale Todd of Cedar Rapids.

    2:49 and the first actual ballot of the day is underway. Male state central committee members. Three seats, 12 candidates, no more than two can be elected on one ballot.

    "Our hope is things will go like Pennsylvania," Elaine Baxter of Team Hillary tells me, as the youth delegates endorse Obama. "She's getting better as a canddate and is on an upward trajectory. It's exciting," says Baxter.

    But what if it's Obama after all? Will Clinton's supporters come along? "I think they will," says Baxter, "but it's going to be difficult. They are so enthused and convinced that she is the right person."

    Sterzenbach has a folksy style as the convention chair. Asked about timekeeping, he says he's been keeping time but forgotten the start button once or twice. "When I was awake, everyone was within the time limit." Of course, the longer speeches have more lull one to sleep potential.

    As we vote on female state central committee members, tempers are bubbling. Asked to line the candidates up yet one more time, Harvey Ross of the rules committee says, "when we reopened nominations, we guaranteed this convention will go until 10:30 p.m. How much longer do you want it to go?"

    Objection is raised that this discriminates against "people who have difficulty retaining information," which may cover pretty much everyone in the hall. But this is voted down, and we forge ahead into platform discussion.

    Sandy Dockendorff of the state central committee says roughly three hours were added to the day when nominations were reopened for the state central committee because the initial candidates "didn't appear diverse enough." She's not bothered by the additional competition, but is frustrated by the process.

    Karen Laughlin suggests "The News" by Carbon Silicon, a London punk band, as an Obama theme song. As an old Clash fan, I'm up for anything London and punk, so I try to check it out. But The Mount Vernon School District has YouTube blocked. (Also Blogger, so I can't crosspost on my personal site or check some of our better Iowa blogs for news from other districts.)

    3:48 and preference groups will happen soon. I hear an implausible number and ask Senator Bob Dvorsky: "How many Obama candidates for national delegate?"


    "Don't you have to petition for that?"

    "Yeah, but it's only like six signatures."

    Team Obama is discussing how to lower that number, such as discussing diversity guidelines and noting that delegate expenses could run up to $2000. (Unions commonly help members pay their way, and other delegates have had fundraisers in the past."

    84 candidates for four seats. That's like the California governor recall. Harvey Ross's 10:30 p.m. estimate is looking optimistic. Postscript: It was; folks were there till after 1 a.m.

    As we break into preference groups at 4:00, some grumbling from folks on the platform committee and affirmative action committee, who want to finish their business first. (The unspoken fear: that folks will leave after the national delegate stuff is done.) (Postscript: That fear was well-founded; by the time I left at 10:30, the 573 delegates had dwindled to rounghly 150.)

    Delegate election is separated by gender; men and women elected separately. Obama will have two men, two women. Speakers will have a minute, which means an hour and 24 minutes. "If you are not 300% committed to being a delegate, I'd encourage you to withdraw," says an Obama staffer. "We certainly aren't discouraging people from participating," disclaims Bob Dvorsky.

    If everybody stays in, those who get less than 15 percent on the first ballot get dropped.

    In the Clinton room, 46 people are seeking two spots, though some are withdrawing. Edwards has 12  men seeking one seat.

    The line of candidates for Obama national delegate, waiting for their one minute turn to speak.

    Back in the Obama room, people are getting applause as they withdraw. Not many are. Only 16 take their names off, leaving 68 and over an hour of speeches. A lot of the speeches begin, "This is my first time participating." Usually, across the whole state, one person with such a profile wins; most national delegates are long-time activists or elected officials.

    In the Edwards room, one person has dropped off, leaving 11. The Clinton camp was still going through the drop-out process. One Obama person has an androgynous name, which causes problems when you're electing men and women separately.

    The most dedicated delegate appears to be Sam Hoheneke of Muscatine; he says the Obama logo tattooed on his hip is the real thing.

    5:53 and the Edwards group reports that they've narrowed from 11 people to five after one ballot. My wife has made her third "honey, when are you coming home?" call. In a nice way. I'm afraid to tell her about the 1996 state convention that ran until 4 a.m.

    The Clinton group has voted on delegates and moved on to state convention committees; Obama is getting ready to vote. One candidate drops out at the mike; gets a Dick Myers endorsement out before being told that's out of order, but he rang that bell already.

    As of 7 p.m. there's a significant attrition level in the Obama room, which no longer matters since the delegates are allocated. The concession stand is closed, so we're at the phase of a convention where victory on platforms and non-delegate offices comes down to who can sit the longest. (Postscript: pizzas appeared later in the evening.)

    The Obama group has cast a second ballot on female delegates.

    At 8:23 p.m. the two Obama male delegates are announced: Dick Myers and Angel Gonzales, both of Johnson County.

    Two minutes later, on the third ballot, the Edwards group elects Dave Redlawsk, so Johnson County gets at least three national delegates.

    Donald Schaefer and Kathy Krehbiel are the Clinton delegates. The ballots for Obama women are still in the third round of counting.

    8:38 and the Obama women are Peggy Whitworth of Linn County and Sandra Pope of Wapello County. They led strongly from the first ballot on, but it took three rounds to get a majority.

    Voting on state central committee continues at 9:27. I'm trying to see how the national blogs are playing Iowa, but the school has Daily Kos, MyDD, and Talking Points Memo all blocked.

    About ten people have decided to run for presidential elector (actually presidential elector candidate), which has never really been a big deal before.

    The platform is adopted at 10:12 p.m. The last person I promised a vote to (Iowa Independent's own Lynda Waddington of the state central committee) got re-elected, so this is my final report for the day. Thanks for watching.

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