This is the second of three posts on my experience at the DNC Southern Caucus meeting in Atlanta. This
is the first. The third post will be on events related specific to Texas and Texas candidates.
As far as message is concerned, it's starting to remind me of the Democratic Primary where Dean ended up defining the message and other candidates, seeing where the Party was, ended up with similar thoughts. For me, a Reform minded Deanocrat, this of course is encouraging and the question now becomes, of those pushing for reform, how much is politics and how much is sincere. For me at least, it seems if the battle is not Dean v. Anti-Dean, it's Dean v. Dean Light...
That being said, I attending the Atlanta meeting with an open mind, and an intent to report on what I saw to better offer a view into a decision that isn't ours to make in this type of election.
In the order that the candidates spoke, below are my thoughts on style and my personal meetings at their separate events.
I attended Simon's Meet and Greet event earlier in the day, and was able to personal chat with him some about blogs, technology, and the interface of the DNC with the lower levels of the Party. The Tennessee crew came in as well and held a Q and A with him. His passion for the job was much more apparent in this meeting than in what was visible in the general meeting that C-SPAN captured. His answers were complete (if at times a bit too long) and he did focus on relating his job experience running the NDN to the DNC saying he was ready to step into the job without a learning curve.
Being one of the younger candidates, he comes off maturer than Fowler does, but this is likely due to his executive position and background. His Chair Campaign had raised about $150,000 and had recently been endorsed by CraigsList, with supposed other endorsements coming this week. He had little 'campaign material' though and mentioned at one point how he supported the invasion of Iraq. He "gets it" though on the question of reform and if were elected chair would have my support and confidence. I feel that his positive aspects were not as well conveyed to the DNC audience though in the panel Q&A, and they are the voters, not me.
Tim Roemer, as hard as he may try, sounds like the ex-Congresscritter that his is, and seems artificial. His "meet and greet" event was centered on food and Max Cleland's endorsement. He had zero campaign materials. He did the traditional "Thank you for that very good question, I appreciate your question, That is perhaps the most important question" shtick in the Panel Q&A. Draped in security and patriotism in excess, he was one of the few asked specific questions about his negative points (being outside the mainstream of the party on Choice, Social Security, voting against Clinton Economic reforms, etc.) In his responses, it appeared that he was trying to set himself of as an "anti-Dean" candidate, such as saying he would not "run the party to the Left (Dean sitting on his left as he waves in that direction) or take it to the right." But so long as both he and Frost are in the hunt, they split up similar voters, helping the real reformers.
The most well known of the candidates, there is less of an education issue with the delegates when it comes to policies or who the candidate its. In that sense, he has an "incumbent advantage" on those fronts one could say. DNC members that are paying less attention to the specifics of the race but are looking for reform, could quite possibly go Dean's way simply because they don't know of any alternatives. As knowledgeable as I would wish every member of the DNC would be, I get a sense from talking to some of them, that those of us racking this race online in the blogosphere have collectively a better understanding of the people and the issues at hand.
Dean drew crowds in the lobby when he would be sanding around, and was very at ease on a person to person basis He gave fresh insightful remarks in the Q&A round, much to my surprise as I was expecting something more along the lines of his stump speeches. Dean was the only candidate to be interrupted (twice) by applause in his 90 second opening remarks. Though he won't officially announce until a day or two, his campaign was in gear. The other candidates know it just as Dean does, that if he doesn't get elected, it will only be because Dean comes in second place in the final ballot between himself and the winner. His name is not one that will be dropped off in some earlier stage of balloting on the way to finding the next DNC Chair.
The former Mayor of Denver, Wellington Webb likes to tell you that his name is Wellington Webb. In the Q&A session, it was brought up about three times. Though his speaking style is clear and direct, I kept trying to figure out if he was still trying to increase his name ID. His meet and greet event was rather sparsely attended, not physically organized, and the only delegates seemingly supporting him were members of the Southern Black Caucus. Webb is a good man, and he cares about whom he represents. It appears though, that he represents the African American voice in this election, which is not enough to elect him as the Chairman. Seeing Al Sharpton in Atlanta (and getting an obligatory picture with him), it made me hope that at some point, the Democratic Party will have Black candidates for these National level offices that represent more tan "putting forth the issues and concerns of the Black community."
Former director of Project Vote and Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, David Leeland is otherwise unknown. Entering the race so late that he had no name placard for the event or and meet and greet, little is known about his policies. His answers did not go far in answering the question of what he brings to the race or what he stands for. For the most part, his responses were bland and repetitive (at least twice he stated "I think all of us up here have the same view on the answer to this question..."). Other than gaining Ohio's DNC votes, I don't see a base of support or unique appeal. I can see hi being one, if the only, of the 7 candidates in attendance to drop out before the February vote is actually held.
Son of former DNC Chair Don Fowler, the younger Don is also one of the candidates that "gets it". I had a chance to personally speak with him up in his suite with blogger Scrutiny Hooligans. While one of his volunteers was very hot under the collar about Dean (not exactly the best thing to do talking to Dean campaign bloggers), Fowler actually got a question into me first, asking off hand, "I bet you want to know if I can code an HTML e-mail?" Fowler's answers were not canned and he draws energy and knowledge from his fieldwork and I much appreciated the openness of his meet and greet.
In the general session, he was quick, witty, charming at times. While some of his jokes didn't get the laugh lines they deserved (tough crowd) he identifies with this Regional Caucus. There is a concern I have though, and that in a race where DNC members' votes may be cast on identity (on race, ideology, relative time in the party) that quite a few won't identify with his enthusiasm or youthful unkempt vigor. I do, but then again, I'm 20, a blogger, and not a DNC member which makes it all quite pointless unless DNC members are reading the blogosphere. And if they are, they are probably already true Reform Democrats. Fowler probably gained more ground than most, and is now a better known quantity that sticks in your head, but this was also some of his more friendly turf. If Mr. Fowler wins, I will have every confidence that the Party will be better because of it. But first he would have to win.
Martin Frost is the other former Congresscritter in this race. His meet and greet consisted of many Texans (not that those votes are unexpected). He seemed to be interested only in those in the room with official white DNC Member nametags, and if you were anything else... Hard to approach, disconnected, and not particularly compelling in his later answers to the full session, where he regularly cited Congress or people he knew as ways to answer questions.
While he may have headed up the DCCC for a couple cycles, I do not remember those being the most recent ones where the Internet and the issue of Reform has come into play. Plus, as the lead man on Democratic Redistricting after the 2000 census, I find it a bit ironic that he lost his seat in Dallas due to redistricting here in Texas. In response to a question on seeking higher office after being DNC chair, he responded "I am no longer interested in offering my name for public office" which should be interesting to Texans as his name has been bandied about as a Statewide candidate of some sort.
Not in attendance, but with their name placards sitting empty on the table were Molly Beth Malcolm former Chair of the Texas Democratic Party and Mr. Blanchard whom I thought had already officially pulled out. Molly Beth would be a bad choice, but it is unlikely that she would enter so long as another Texan was in the race (Ron Kirk dropped out as there were too many Texans as it was).