Thanks to the generosity and kindness of well-known Kossack and blogosphere legal expert Adam B, I was able to attend a fundraiser hosted at the Franklin Institute (pictured above), the famed science museum that is on the outskirts of Center City in Philadelphia. The fundraiser drew what I'd call a crowd of 200-250 to a 3rd-floor ballroom just past the sporting section of the museum, with the proceeds being equally split between PA-06 Democratic candidate Lois Murphy, PA-07 Democratic candidate Joe Sestak, and PA-08 Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy. Also attending were freshman Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D PA-13) and longtime Rep. Chakah Fattah (D PA-02), but the special guest of attendance was Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). To say the least, many in attendance were excited to see the former first lady (and likely future presidential candidate) speak.
By the time I had arrived at the event (about 10 minutes or so before it was supposed to begin), there were already a fair number of people milling around and chatting. The door in the back of the above picture is where the high rollers (those who donated the maximum $2,100 to each individual candidate) were getting a personal meeting (and undoubtedly those coveted photographs) with the candidates, representatives, and Senator Clinton. After having a few of the exquisite hors d'oeuvres that were served, I ended up running into Kossack Bayern Munich, who had taken the train up from Washington, D.C. to attend the event (also thanks to Adam). Although he is a lobbyist, you don't have to worry about him fighting against beliefs that Democrats believe in - he's an animal rights lobbyist (I should have asked him what kind of reaction they get from cat-killer Bill First). He was looking forward to hearing Hillary speak, along with the rest of the candidates. Before the rally began, I also spoke to Adam and his wonderful wife (she's a well-received author). Adam is a great guy, well-spoken; he likes Hillary as a person (although I don't recall whether he supported a potential presidential run by her), and he also made a good point: for all the shit that Hillary has had to endure over the past 15 years, it's amazing that she's still standing as strong as she is. It takes a person of real strength to survive the mud that has been slung at her and her family ever since the early 1990s. I also spoke with Pam Levenson, a local Hillary supporter who was able to get the fundraiser set up. She thanked me for coming and asked me what the extra cents for the ActBlue donations were. To say the least, it was great fun telling her what the various loose cents at the end stood for, but Adam informed me that all his ActBlue pages are set up with tags to identify which blog they are coming from. Thanks for killing the fun! :P
Representative Allyson Schwartz warmed up the crowd for us, talking about the great opportunity we had to take back a lot of seats here in Pennsylvania in the House. She hit on all of the main points that Democrats talk about - the economy, the loss of jobs, the incompetence of the Bush administration, but that the Democrats were the ones who were going to clean it up. In mentioning her own hard-fought race for election in 2004 for the seat left open by former Rep. Joe Hoeffel (who was in the crowd), Schwartz reiterated how important it was for us to stay involved as Election Day neared. It's only a mere 26 days until November 7, and the GOP is sure to go as negative and as low as possible in order to cling to power. She introduced all of us to Patrick, Joe, and Lois before giving way to Patrick, who got to speak to the crowd first.
One of the reasons Patrick is a great campaigner is his ability to speak largely off the cuff without prepared remarks. Today was no exception, even though he probably did something that a lot of candidates do. After making a few quick jokes to his youth (when he was teaching constitutional law at West Point, people would tell him all the time he needed to be in class when he wasn't dressed in uniform, or something to that effect) and about his rank (even though he was a captain, his wife, Jenni, is the boss - and he doesn't dispute who's in charge), he launched into talking about his military service in Iraq. He noted that the only 2 senators to visit the base where he was stationed in Iraq - or at least the first 2 - were Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Hillary, which was met with resounding applause. He noted how difficult it was to patrol an area the size of Philadelphia with a brigade that is half the size of the Philadelphia police force. After hearing about how we needed more troops in Iraq - and the administration refusing to take the actions necessary to make Iraq more secure than the chaotic mess it is right now - he decided to run. Patrick then launched into a story about a woman in his district. This woman found out 10 years ago that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), and that she was told she'd only have 3-5 years to live. She's still alive now, but she's now on a respirator, only able to speak 20 minutes a day. When Patrick entered the race, she called to speak to Patrick, he recalled. She had called the current representative's (freshman GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick) office about the vote on stem cell research 3 times - and she never heard back. This is a woman who wants to see her 7 year-old daughter taken to the high school prom, and the only hope for her survival was voted against not once, but twice by Fitzpatrick. You can tell that Patrick isn't the most experienced politician in the world, because he was tearing up while recounting this story. The woman told Patrick to tell her story everywhere he went, because if Fitzpatrick was going to stand with Bush on this issue, she'd be with our guy all the way.
Next to speak was Joe Sestak, a retired admiral from the Navy. It's the first time I had the chance to hear Sestak speak in person, and I have to tell you - this guy is amazing. I know it's perhaps a little late to start, but the man would be amazing in the Senate, or possibly even in a Cabinet position in the future. He took a couple of good-natured ribbing at DCCC chair Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL), saying that if he had entered the race earlier, it wouldn't be called 'A New Direction', but 'A New Course' (I presume that 'course' is used in Navy lingo); he also said that he went to train stations at 5:30-8 in the morning to greet people - 'but only because Rahm told me I can't fundraise at that time', he said to laughter. Similar to Patrick, Sestak also spoke extemporaneously - and only on 2 topics. The first was about taking his daughter to the hospital when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Sestak could have easily brought up Curt Weldon's insensitive attacks on the issue, but he didn't. Instead, he discussed how he went to the hospital and was able to get his daughter treated - but he overheard another family discussing if they could keep their 2 year-old boy in the hospital since they didn't have health care. This is what inspired him to get into the race - not just Iraq or any of the numerous other issues, but health care. He noted Hillary's efforts at universal health care in the 1990s, which got a great reception from the crowd. The second thing Sestak spoke about was a dinner he had with President Clinton and veterans of World War II on the eve of the 50-year anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. The late historian Stephen Ambrose was talking about how even though the Germans targeted the commanders of the Army, we were able to succeed in landing on the beaches of France. What these men had - and what we all have inside of us, Sestak said, was it. He had it, and we all have a part of it - that indescribable intangible within us all to do great things - and that is why we are going to succeed this fall. We have it, and when you have it, it cannot be stopped.
Following Sestak is particularly difficult, and Lois Murphy was quite a change from the two veterans. She stuck to the typical Democratic message of running through a laundry list of issues that we have grievances about - whether it be energy independence or the war on Iraq or the fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP. She noted that she has been the target of particularly nasty ads by her opponent, Jim Gerlach, and the Republican Party. I like Murphy a lot, and I think she'll put away Gerlach easily this year if 2004 - a strong GOP year - was any indication, when she barely lost after leading much of the way. Nevertheless, it was clear that she was speaking from the stump, as noted by the applause lines she dropped every couple of sentences and the repeated use of 'A New Direction' as a sort of cadence for her speech. After being exposed to Patrick for some time now, though, and after Sestak's amazing speech, it was a little harder to get as excited about her part.
Allyson Schwartz came back to introduce Hillary, whom she had organized a rally with Hillary and Tipper Gore during the 1992 election in Philadelphia. Hillary noted that she and Bill both love being in Pennsylvania, and they have been there so much that 'we should be paying property taxes'. One gets the idea that Hillary is not the greatest public speaker from news accounts from her speeches, but let me tell you this: she knows what she's doing. People don't call her one of the best politicians in the business for nothing. After acknowledging the two other competitive races for PA House seats (Chris Carney in PA-10 and Jason Altmire in PA-04), Hillary began speaking about the need to stop what was going in today's political climate. She did criticize Bush on Iraq, but she did not mention what some would say has been her staunch refusal to set a timetable. From their perspective, she said, the Republican leadership has driven off a cliff with Bush and Cheney - and they are going to do everything possible to try and win these races. After all, Hillary said, "if the elections were held today, we'd control both the House and the Senate". But it's not, and we still have to do everything possible to pull out the stops. In an not-so-subtle reference to her time in the White House and the Senate, Hillary said something that every Democrat needs to take to heart: "Don't make the first attack. But when they do, you deck them." And even though it had been noted earlier by Lois Murphy, I believe, that there needs to be a return to civility, we can't always take the high road. When the other side attacks, we don't only need to respond. We need to bury them.
As the speech went on, Hillary hit her stride. She told us to talk with people and to be the 'eyes and ears' for the campaigns. She recounted one time during her 2000 Senate campaign when she received a call from a man in Albany about a negative test-messaging that Rick Lazio's campaign had been doing. Hillary noted that although most people will either dismiss it or simply use it to reinforce their beliefs (ironically, she did make a reference to the fact that there are a good portion of people who utterly disdain her), there are some persuadables that can be moved by such attacks. Luckily, the Lazio campaign was stupid enough to go on the air with the negative message (linking Hillary to terrorists via the attack on the USS Cole), and it sent his campaign irrevocably downhill. Additionally, she noted that many more people at her events are Republicans - surprising, given how vilified she was in the 1990s. At a fundraiser nearly a year ago, she spoke with a Republican who had deep ties to past GOP administrations. It was Hurricane Katrina that turned him against the GOP, when he realized that the Republican Party he had been a part of no longer existed. The crowd began applauding steadily louder as Hillary ticked off the items - stem cell research, budget deficits, foreign policy, minimum wages, health care - that the GOP had ignored. "There's nothing conservative about the Republican Party today," Hillary proclaimed. "They are radicals." The room was going wild. This is what we want to see more of from Democrats - unafraid to call the GOP the radicals they are, for being far beyond anything one would consider mainstream, or even traditionally conservative.
After Hillary finished, there was a quick photo op, and the senator quickly exited the stage, undoubtedly in a rush to get to some other event she had to attend. The other candidates stuck around for a while, though. I had a chance to meet Patrick once again, and he was clearly enthused by being a big part of this rally. I also went and spoke to Sestak, and his eyes lit up when I mentioned the group of bloggers who are filming Crashing The States. I had overheard him saying that the new poll released yesterday was 'a bit too optimistic', so I decided to ask him what message he'd like to send to the blogosphere. "This election is about health care, the economy, job security - it's all a part of national security," Sestak said. It's true...in the end, every issue is linked in one way or another, and if we want to put an end to the madness in Washington, we have to take back Congress.
26 days, folks. Do everything you can - because the lives of millions depend on it.