Saturday, June 28, 2008

Democratic Convention Liveblog 2

Democratic Convention Liveblog 2: Chips and Chat with Tom Vilsack

1:52 and lunch is over. Tom Miller is at the podium as people drift back.

The long hours of a convention are a great equalizer, as we all dine on the same concession stand burgers and fries. I spotted Tom Vilsack, nibbling on some chips at the back of the hall by himself, and decide to interrupt his lunch. As we talk, a few other delegates gather around and join in.

Party unity will happen, says the man who started the race as a candidate himself, then signed on with Hillary Clinton. "A) we've got a great candidate," Vilsack now says of Obama. "B), we can't afford 4 more years of Bush on steroids."

"This is truly a historic election for America. I grew up in the era of Brown vs. Board, segregated schools, segregated communities -- and here we are," said Vilsack of a nomination process that left an African-American and a woman as the last two candidates.

"As president, you can't micromanage. You have to deal with the stuff at the top. A president provides the direction and vision -- and Obama was able to provide the vision."

Still, Vilsack says, there's work to do. "The universe of people who that nominated Obama is not enough to elect him. The family has to grow. And when a family grows, there's growing pains."

Vilsack has no regrets about siding with Clinton until the nomination was settled, and mentioned loyalty. "The only national people who helped me in `98 (in my first run for governor) were Paul Wellstone and Hillary Clinton," he said.

Vilsack also seems to have no regrets about his own short campaign. "I just didn't have the resources. But it turned out best for the party," he said.

"When I started to run, they told me I needed $20 million. Well, add a zero to that," he said of Obama's internet-driven fundraising. Vilsack sees that as an opportunity for one of Iowa's congressional candidates.

"If Becky Greenwald can capture the Internet, then her fundraising capacity gets expanded dramatically and she gets attention from D.C.," said Vilsack. "Before you know it, Tom Latham gets knocked off. That's sort of what happened with Dave Loebsack."

Delegate Nicole McVey introduces herself and says she attended school with one of Vilsack's sons. "Is that an iPod?" Vilsack asks, pointing to McVey's small Nano. "My iPod has 150 or 160 songs on it," said Vilsack. "I do a lot of travel by plane, and music helps make the flight seem quicker."

Back at the convention, Jack Kibbie is implausibly introduced to the tune of "Jumping Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones. The trifecta "has happened three times in 100 years, and I was there for two of them."

"We're still on time," insists Rob Tully at 2:02 p.m. as Leonard Boswell is introduced to Congressman John Hall's "Still The One."

Dave Redlawsk says the Edwards group has identified the people it wants to send, and the campaigns are in agreement to honor the delegate split as elected at the county conventions. He's not sure yet whether that will be logistically be done within a unified Obama group or within three separate preference groups.

In the most heated platform fight, a resolution to "Honor the party's 34 year commitment to labor by supporting 'broad scope' negotiations in the strongest possible terms" passed. Informally, this has been called the "Screw Culver" amendment. Another resolution passed that demand equal access to party materials to all party candidates is also passed. Some primary challengers got shut out; this is the response.

At 2:23 the convention is moving toward votes for Democratic National Committee. One man and one woman get elected. Contested races are happening. On the female side, Miriam Tyson has a well-organized challenge to incumbent Sandy Opsvedt, (it's pronounced "up-street") but there's about 10 candidates.

More faces from the lunch hour:

Sam Becker of Iowa City is running for Obama national delegate. "I don't have much chance,"he said over lunch, "but I'd love to go." Becker is a retired communication professor of such stature that the Comm Studies Building was named Becker Hall when he retired. "I've always been active, but I never even attended a county convention before, let alone a district or state."

Michael Blackwell is running for Black Hawk County supervisor. The fall race has four candidates for three seats: three Democrats and a Republican incumbent. Blackwell, a minister who is in countless community activities, says he hopes Obama has long coattails.

Back at the female DNC race, time limits on speeches are being strictly enforced. This office is chosen by the convention as a whole; will Opsvedt's Clinton support hurt her with this Obama-leaning convention?

2:58 and male DNC candidates are speaking. Incumbent Richard Mahacek has several challengers. (Johnson County's Dick Myers endorses him.) The three campaigns have named their party leader/elected official delegates. Team Obama is sending Attorney General Tom Miller, Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, and Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. Team Hillary is sending the Vilsacks -- Tom and Christy. The Edwardians have chosen State Rep. Ro Foege. Gender balance rules mean that the Obama group has to name four women and one man for their at-large seats.

During a lull, Bruce Braley speaks via video (the actual Braley is in the district doing flood work). A technical glitch renders the congressman bright green, but that gets fixed. We're all waiting for the DNC votes to get counted; Tully has scolded us to color in the lines of the bubbles. In other logistical notes, repeated requests to increase the room temperature (several delegates are bundled in blankets). No one adopts Hillary's "turn up the heat" chant.

Becky Greenwald speaks at 3:40. "Send George Bush's wing man home for good," she says of Tom Latham, the best line in a list-of-issues speech. (Bashing No Child Left Behind always seems to get the loudest applause in these types of speeches.) She likens her long-shot to Loebsack, just as Vilsack did. "When Dave Loebsack is sworn in for his second term, I'll be standing right beside him."

Rob Hubler gets big applause at the initial mention of running against Steve King, and speaks of "cringing with embarrassment." "I have people tell me that I'm the guy that's right for Iowa and Steve King is just plain wrong for Iowa." He attacks King more than Greenwald attacked Latham -- but then there's so much material to work with. "Western Iowa needs a servant, not a King."

More balloting: state affirmative action chair, second ballot on female DNC.

I'm sharing my power strip with Amanda Hagge, proprietor of the Galaxy Deli in Clinton. Speaking of Clinton, she's wearing a Hillary shirt -- but, as she notes, an Obama button. How enthusiastic is she about the button? "I'm a little disillusioned, but I'm a Democrat," she says. "He's our least experienced candidate in history, but.. well, OK. 'd feel better with her as vice president." Hagge says she'll be less enthusiastic about her fall campaign activities, but nevertheless names a long list of doorknocking and house parties and phonebanking.

4:45 and there are dozens of candidates for presidential elector. Technically they are candidates for candidate for elector, since no one is an elector until their party carries the state. No one ever gets it right, no one cares except me. I almost make this point to the convention, but I have this outlet instead. Bottom line is, there's one male spot and one female slot, so each nomination means more voting.

They're stretching for time while they compile the list of candidates for elector (candidate), so they call on Kevin McCarthy for a speech (a snippet of CCR's "Fortunate Son" as an intro). "Remember the Iowa House," pleads McCarthy, saying that's the GOP's real target this fall.

A technical note: The laptop is a dual-boot system, and I'm having better luck connecting to the internet when I'm booted in Linux than when I'm in Windows.

Another ballot for Male DNC. Mahachek and four others. In his superdelegate capacity, Mahacek started with Edwards, then switched to Obama.

The PLEOs are officially elected (see names above), and chair Scott Brennan nominates the "unpledged add-on delegate." It's Mari Culver. Rob Tully's periodic "we're still running on time" announcements have ceased.

5:10 and platform debate on minority planks. It only takes 10 percent of the platform committee to make an issue "controversial" and trigger automatic six minutes of debate and vote. It's items that a few, few people care passionately about, occasionally getting complicated by double negative grammar ("vote yes to remove this from the platform.") This esoterica will probably be shoved aside quickly once it's time for another DNC or other such ballot.

In an interesting moment, the plan about taxing marijuana is "controversial," while the two words "legalize marijuana" were not. For a moment I wonder if I am at the Libertarian convention, until the vote is, true to Democratic form, to tax.

What might have been: today's convention is choosing literally the LAST Democratic National Convention delegates. We're past the deadline, but got an exception because of the flood. If the nomination had been in question, the street would have been lined with satellite trucks and the hall would have been packed.

As predicted, platform debate is shoved aside at 5:50 to vote on presidential elector (candidate). 30 candidates for two slots, as the Long March continues. The attrition rate of delegates is starting to be noticeable. The platform debate feels like the album track between the hit singles of votes.

6:39 and the third ballot on DNC. Three women remain and four men. They've combined the ballot and announced "you have to vote for both a man and a woman for your ballot to count." Party rules prohibit vote-gaming strategies such as bullet voting (voting for only one candidate in a multi-candidate race). But male DNC and female DNC are different elections, and what if you want to vote in one election and not the other? Fortunately no one raises this point on the floor.

7:06 p.m. and the attrition rate is accelerating. The elector (candidate) candidates narrow from 30 to 17. Going to be a long night. Someone moves to suspend the rules and choose electors by lot, causing some mirth.

Mike Carberry of Iowa Global Warming offers a speaker review, delayed by seven hours. Jean Carnahan gave a completely different speech last night as keynoter of the Hall of Fame dinner; all the other dignitaries gave essentially the same remarks.

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