ODP Dinner: Biden Press Conference
The Ohio Democratic Party 2006 State Dinner was five days ago, so posting about it now probably isn't very newsworthy. However, I promised that I would have more to say about Sen. Barack Obama's keynote speech, so clearly I am not finished with this thing yet. What I’m going to do is write about Sen. Biden's press conference and some other miscellaneous events and meetings in this post and call it my second-to-last, and in my final post about the ODP Dinner I’ll write about Obama’s speech.
I agree with Pho and Redhorse that issuing separate credentials for bloggers was hugely significant. Like them, I would have been happy to attend the event with a blogger credential and pass on sitting at a table and being served a banquet dinner for which I did not pay, which would have obviated much of the furor in the blogosphere over how the blogger table came about. However, I’m glad that I accepted Sen. Obama’s generous offer and sat at the blogger table. It was in my "reporting" of the event that I was frustrated and disappointed with myself, and hopefully learned a lot of lessons for the future (such as the need to bring a digital recorder, not rely on a notepad and pen). Attending and socializing and letting the proceedings just wash over me was tremendous fun, because there was so much excitement, enthusiasm, and good cheer on all sides.
I mentioned in an earlier post that after visiting the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus pre-event I went to a press conference and heard Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) speak. As I walked into the room, however, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island) and Susan Turnbull of the Democratic National Committee were answering questions from reporters (and bloggers). Redfern was saying that the ODP learned a great deal about how to talk to voters about the new voting machines in the successful primary write-in campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D-St. Clairsville), including emphasizing that voters can ask questions and can get assistance. The party will work with county Boards of Election to ensure that Democratic poll workers are well trained. He also said that the ODP has attorneys ready to go in all 88 counties to seek redress in the weeks before the election, not just on election day, including on the critical issue of the numbers of machines in polling places. Another part of the overall project is to address provisional ballots. The Secretary of State and Attorney General were able to side-step an examination of the provisional ballot and numbers of voting machines issues by getting court claims dismissed after the 2004 election, but the ODP is not letting go of these issues.
Sen. Biden opened by saying that everyone in Washington is excited about Ohio and very interested in seeing a Democratic governor elected, and he senses an opening for electing a Democratic senator in Ohio as well. Previewing his later speech, he said that the American public has "closed the door" on the Bush administration, having found out that it "lacks the competence to get the job done." However, people think that the President is up for re-election in 2006, and that is not the case. The Congressional races are critical, because we are stuck with Bush for two and a half more years. Administration policies have led us in the wrong direction, clearly in national security and foreign relations, but also in health care and the economic plight of the middle class. Bush has NO energy plan. A lot of damage can be done in 2 1/2 years, so message # 1 has to be "Elect Democratic candidates!" Asked whether Biden's proposal to reorganize Iraq on religious and ethnic lines has gained any traction, he said yes, and he is afraid that conditions in Iraq will make it look better every day, since the chances of a unity government there appear to be fading. On the question of whether investigations will be a priority if the Democrats take control of Congress, Biden said his "overwhelming and strong recommendation" would be against that. Democrats should be trying to figure out how to build a consensus. People are upset and angry that Congress has been reluctant to take Bush on, but notice that Republican Senators like McCain, Hagel, and Lugar have never disagreed with Biden's criticisms of the administration. For example, they all have been calling for direct talks with Iran for a long time. Three years ago Bush labeled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the "axis of evil" as if he had a plan for dealing with them, and in every instance they have become more dangerous since then. The American public wants results. Asked about the Supreme Court, Biden said that if we don't win the Senate and don't win the White House in 2008, we will wind up with seven Scalias on the high court. Then he added, "we don't need fifty senators to stop the worst from being confirmed." He outlined the Senate agenda for the next three months (gay marriage, flag burning, and the most controversial of the Court of Appeals nominees), and said that the Republicans "have no chance of passing these, but they are trying to inspire their base."
As he was leaving, Biden shook hands with the reporters present, and when he got to us bloggers he asked "Who are you?" When we identified ourselves as bloggers, he said "Oh, you guys are the power nowadays!" Great quote. I'm thinking of putting it at the top of my blog template.
After the press conference, I made my way down to the enormous hall where the dinner tables seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. I met a number of candidates and campaign workers in person whom I had known only through email. In particular, I was delighted to meet Jean Herendeen Ackerman, who ran a strong primary campaign for the Ohio House of Representatives and lost by only 68 votes. Among the many who visited the bloggers' table over the course of the event were Dave Harding of the Mary Jo Kilroy Congressional campaign, Jesse Taylor of the Strickland for Governor campaign, and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mark Naymik.
I have only a few scattered notes for most of the speeches given. I noted that Biden spoke strongly in favor of building consensus, not emulating Karl Rove's strategy of winning merely by energizing the party's base. He said that the Democrats must try to win in more than just the same 19 states, and that "if we're not competitive in about 12 red states we can't lead even if we win." It also struck me when he said that "history will judge George Bush harshly, not for the mistakes he has made, but for the opportunities he has squandered," and posed the question of how much good could have come from the leadership of a truly strong president after 9/11. Sherrod Brown told the story of how a voter in Dover/New Philadelphia had given him an antique brass lantern, which replaced the canary in the cage as a device to warn miners about low oxygen, to put into his Senate Office as a reminder of the people for whom he is running. He emphasized how Mike DeWine is a rubber stamp for Bush, and asked everyone attending to talk to five people about supporting his campaign. I recall that Barbara Sykes was inspiring but I did not take notes because of things happening at our table. Dann said that wiping out public corruption would give Governor Strickland a billion dollars a year of additional money to help turn Ohio around. Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman, who introduced Obama, said he is proud to support Ted Strickland, and that he is a Democrat because "Democrats believe the common good is better than good for a few, and that working for the common good is noble."
When Obama began his keynote speech they turned off the lights in the hall, leaving me aghast, clutching my pen and notebook in the dark. At first I tried to write by the dim glow of a candle on the table, then remembered that my cell phone has a tiny built-in LED flashlight. From notes scribbled in that tiny pool of blue-ish light, I will describe Obama’s keynote speech as best I can in my final ODP Dinner post. Stay tuned.