Sunday, June 09, 2019

Random Thoughts On A Random Order Day

It used to be a presidential election had an "Invisible Primary" stage before the early states. Candidates tested the waters with low profile visits and events in the midterm cycle, gathered their families and core people, and made a decision. Many opted out, and only a few opted in.

It's not unusual for two dozen people to think about running for president and look into it.

But what is unusual, or perhaps is the unfortunate new reality, is that ALL of those people are opting in. In 2016 on the Republican side, and this cycle on the Democratic side, the Invisible Primary phase of the campaign seems to have vanished, and this backstage first phase of narrowing the field is playing out in public with declared candidates.

So today we had the spectacle of  NINETEEN candidates giving speeches at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids.

The mindset seems to be: Err on the side of inclusion. But it's just so much. Not sure how someone could decide or even narrow from this - or from two nights of 10-candidate debates - unless you start from the self-fulfilling prophecy of polls and limit yourself to candidates that are registering at least a smidgen of support. We got a handy checklist last night:



The problem is, by including EVERYone, you have less time to focus on the serious players. I would have liked half as many speeches but twice as long.

The beret has been semi-retired for a while, but I figured this show was too big to pass up. So I dutifully drove north for what I expected would be a brutally long day and night.

I arrived to witness, as expected, Sign War.

I do not love Sign War. Staffers and volunteers love Sign War. We had two solid blocks of Sign War. But with pretty good collegiality between most campaigns (except the one that does its own thing), it wasn't much of a "war." At one point the Klobuchar, Harris and Gillibrand campaigns were all chanting "we need a woman in the White House" together. (Warren was based a block away and Gabbard's contingent was about six people.)

So Gabbard was the clear sign war loser; the whole experience was too overwhelming to name a winner.

Chris Dodd had a blimp, too.

Sanders only dabbled in the main drag of sign war; his alternative was a Fight For $15 pre-rally at a nearby McDonalds. On message, and a good cause - but also on brand for Bernie being the one who does His Own Separate Thing. Their march over from Mickey D's almost collided with Corey Booker's arrival. Buttigeig also did a pre-rally rather than Sign War.

As for Team Biden, they clearly decided that with no candidate, they were just going to bypass the event entirely and not even attempt visibility. Not a bad decision, because with no candidate you have no draw and any effort looks weak. All in or all out.

The speeches began, 14 minutes late. I had turned down dinner tickets from Teams Beto and Booker since I had gotten a press pass, but I thought I might regret that decision by suppertime.

Most candidates stuck close to the podium and the teleprompter, trying to stick to their tightly scripted five minutes that needed to compress the Greatest Hits into one five minute medley, touch as many issue bullet points as possible while at the same time hitting the Overall Campaign Theme and some biography. Each speech flashed by about as fast as a total eclipse.

To the delight of most of the room, the sound crew was ruthless. At exactly five minutes, they turned up the music to play the candidates off. And in a solstice miracle, it worked.
  • Beat the clock: Beto, Bullock, Warren, Gillibrand, Booker
  • Did not beat the clock: Klobuchar (barely), Pete (barely), Williamson, Delaney, Swalwell, Sanders, Gabbard
  • Total clock management failure: de Blasio, Bennet
  • Did not notice: Hickenlooper, Yang, Harris, Ryan, Inslee

Best Speeches: The two who moved away from the podium, and who gave the strongest speeches, were Warren and Harris. (Yang also walked, but seemed rushed.) Booker, Beto, and Pete were also good, as were Klobuchar and Gillibrand - the two trailing candidates who I can still imagine making a breakthrough.

Honorable mention:

Special Category: This event was not a good setting for Bernie Sanders. I'm not especially objective about him - but I have seen him enough at enough different kinds of events to know that his strength is at a rally of his own faithful, and that he's not great at multi-candidate events like this. The audience today was party regulars and elected official types, which is definitely not a Bernie-friendly crowd. His applause was only scattered other than at the Sanders tables, even when the words themselves were acceptable to the whole room.

Biggest gap between audience enthusiasm and position in Register poll: Klobuchar. 

Missed opportunity: Jay Inslee was really good on climate change. It could have been a breakout moment (no one had one of those today). But that was only a minute or so of his five. He should have junked the rest of the speech and done five solid minutes on climate - that's where his heart is. But: his ask for a debate focused only on climate change, which is becoming a litmus test for parts of the activist base, seemed to only get cheers from his table.

Weakest speech (serious person category): Most of the small fry were undistinguished, but Michael Bennet failed to even manage a graceful exit when the music played him off. He just kept talking, they had to turn it up and the audience had to applaud to get him off stage. Not good when you speak 18th of 19.

Weakest speech (special category): Marianne Williamson is a joke and we need to find a way to not have to invite her to things like this.

Death Valley: Speaking order was random drawn and we had a brutal mid-show three in a row of Tim Ryan, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson.

Best self-deprecating line: "I have 8.6 million highly opinionated constituents" - Bill de Blasio

Best stage music: Was hard to hear most of the time but I did note that Beto O'Rourke took the stage to the Clash. They are obviously trying to get a commit card out of me.


Cheapest shot: Ideological elbows are fair, but Andrew Yang was the one person who criticized Joe Biden for not attending. Now, maybe Biden IS trying to limit attendance at multi-candidate events, but he had a grand-daughter with a graduation which 1) is totally on brand for Biden and 2) most Iowans would count as an excused absence.

Had to look it up:  Other than Biden, candidates missing were Seth Moulton, Some Dude Mayor Wayne Messam, and... had to look it up... Julian Castro.


Other notes from small fry: Gabbard led with Aloha and talked about peace; Delaney talked Big Tent Party and rural, Tim Ryan was all White Working Class and bringing the Rust Belt back. Bullock played his one Iowa card: the inexplicable endorsement by Attorney General Tom Miller.

Special gold medal: to Troy Price and IDP staff for the miracle of getting the whole show done in 2 hours 57 minutes. Extra special thanks to the sound crew for being ruthless with the play-off music.

More random notes on the Deeth Twitter Feed.