Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mailbag

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 719

One of the things I’ve done as part of this caucusing experience is sign up at each campaign’s web site (except for Kucinich and Gravel, I mean. Gotta draw the line of plausibility somewhere!). This isn’t out of any sense of commitment to any of them at this point, but rather to let them know that there’s an email address in Des Moines that they should be targeting, and to keep tabs on what everyone’s campaign is broadcasting to their base of supporters.

It’s been an education so far. The “vote for me” content is no surprise, but the numbers, as is so often the case, are telling. Since signing up on the various campaign sites, here are some stats that I find interesting:
Total campaign emails received this month = 24
Source of greatest number of emails = Clinton (7), trailed by Biden (5)
Source of least number of emails = 3-way tie: Dodd, Richardson, Vilsack, all with just 1 each
Longest lapse between emails = Vilsack (7 days)

What is all this supposed to mean? For starters, it tells me a lot about the level of net-roots focus in the campaigns. Who is keeping their supporters and prospective supports in touch with their candidate? Who is reaching out, and who is laying back? Who understands that on-line activists are a crucial early contest constituency, and is working to get their message out to them?

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from the numbers so far.

Also fascinating to me is the question of why every campaign - especially those of the lesser-known and less well-funded candidates - isn’t really, really, REALLY working their mailing lists. The people on these lists are universally volunteering to receive campaign email, which costs nothing to create, nothing to distribute, and is virtually guaranteed to reach its intended audience. Campaigns who treat this channel of communication as an afterthought do so at their peril.

My advice to the campaigns: keep those cards and letters coming!


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another Hat in the Ring

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = (still) 720 *fingers drumming*

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware will file papers with the Federal Election Commission tomorrow, declaring himself a full-blown candidate for president. Apparently, he’s decided to skip the explorer’s club and jumping right into the fray - bold move, Joe!

This will be Biden’s second attempt to grab the brass ring; he previously ran in 1988. Time will tell how he does this time around.


Think Piece, Vol. I

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 720

Psychologist Neal Miller formulated a theory of conflict that sought to explain the relationship between motivation and choice. What it boils down to is that you want to attain certain ends and avoid others, and your decisions are calibrated by the nature and degree of conflict between what you want and what you do not want. Since most decisions are not between pure benefit and pure detriment, but a mixture of the two, and influenced by a galaxy of factors, decisions are usually trade-offs in which you accept the likelihood of both beneficial and detrimental consequences arising from whatever choice you make.

In other words, conflicts in decision-making rarely achieve final resolution, and we live on the fulcrum of the see-saw, trying to ride both sides at once. Welcome, readers, to the much-coveted sweet spot of the campaign strategist: the world of the Uncommitted Voter.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not necessarily a bad place to be, particularly a year before the caucus. In some ways, it’s refreshing, in that many nominating cycles present either a choice between candidates all of whom you despise to varying degrees (“the lesser of two evils”), or about whom you are indifferent (“the evil of two lessers”). It’s not all that common to go into a campaign with more than one candidate who is relatively attractive (i.e., positives outweigh negatives), but I think that’s what we’ve got, at least up to this point.

It’s worth noting that this is the first presidential election cycle since 1952 in which there is no clear successor vying to follow the retiring incumbent into the Oval Office. With the field as wide open as it can be for both major parties, huge advantages are likely for whichever one presents the most robust group of candidates, first to its own ranks, and then to the electorate at large. I like the fact that on the Democratic side there are a number of candidates who would seem to merit some serious thought: Hillary Clinton (who, interestingly, is the national frontrunner but does not lead polling in Iowa) is as formidable as expected, but there’s also the phenomenon of Barack Obama, the personality of John Edwards, the résumé of Bill Richardson, the gravitas of Joe Biden. And who’s to say there aren’t surprises lurking in Tom Vilsack, Chris Dodd and some others?

Jumping back to Neal Miller, all this tosses a pretty attractive set of approach-approach conflicts into the decision mix. The not-so-good stuff, what Miller termed the “avoidance gradients,” hasn’t emerged yet; but I’m sure all the campaigns are hard at work on moving that process along. For the time being, though, this is the Happy Hour of the campaign, time for introductions and bar snacks, and trading the occasional phone number. There’s a long way to go before Last Call.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hillary's Kickoff

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 722

As promised, yesterday I attended Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign kickoff event, held at East High School here in Des Moines.

WHAT A ZOO! One would have thought by the collective buzz that the event was taking place in January of 2008, rather than a year before the caucuses. Here’s a snapshot by the numbers:
Number of cars in the campaign motorcade = 10
Number of satellite uplink news trucks in the parking lot = 6
Number of media present = 150...or 200...or 300
Number of foreign media outlets in the room = at least 4, including units from Japan, England and Switzerland (the latter, like myself, entirely neutral so far!)
Number of people in the room with Hillary (and me) = at least 1,000
Number of people who couldn’t get in the room with Hillary and were banished to the gym to watch on television = at least 1,000 more
Temperature when I was walking back to my car after the event: -5 F (with blowing snow)

Seats being scarce, and largely reserved for supporters, I stood through the event, choosing a place just on the other side of the press cordon from the section assigned to the national print media. This was actually one of the most informative and amusing aspects of the whole day for me, as I got to overhear their comments about Senator Clinton and her chances for the White House. The reporters traded their thoughts about whether Hillary seemed comfortable in her own skin (universally, they thought not), and the amazing discipline of her campaigns for the Senate, and so far, the Presidency (but, quoth one scribe, “discipline itself can be a problem for her, if it makes her look like the Ice Queen.” Okey-dokey.). Another reporter held forth at some length about Hillary’s choice of wardrobe, accessories and hairstyle on various days. Obviously, some members of the press pool need tighter deadlines (Reporter: “Oh! Does that mean deadlines will be worn tighter this year?” Me: “Never mind.”).

It was also interesting to evesdrop on people in the crowd. One woman near me said she had driven from Indiana to be there.

Overall, I thought Senator Clinton did well. She was introduced by local Congressman Leonard Boswell, who was himself introduced by the school principal. Hillary spoke without notes for about 20 minutes, then opened the floor to questions from the audience. The audience was not handpicked, nor, as far as I could tell, were any of the questions pre-screened. But they might as well have been. The crowd was as polite as could be, and all the questions were softballs, even the one (that’s ONE. Un. Uno. Ein.) question about Iraq, which, slow pitch that it was, Hillary nevertheless fouled off into the stands by talking about the care Iraq veterans receive through the V.A. system.

Women in the audience were especially enthusiastic, and went wild over Hillary’s comments about the possibility of a woman president. One audience member couldn’t contain herself, shouting out, “You go, girl!,” to which Hillary replied, “You go with me!” Nice moment.

I was interested to see the evolution of Hillary’s speaking style throughout the event. She got off to slow start, I thought, even though that was during her remarks about a woman being President. Where she picked up steam, and points, was when she began to talk about issues confronting the nation and her ideas for how they should be addressed.
She’s a heavyweight, no question. But I think sometimes she tries to run from that in order to burnish her “plain folks” credentials. That aspect of her campaign will be very interesting to watch as it plays out.

But, sadly, while I got close enough for a handshake (without actually shaking hands), I did not get to actually meet the candidate - there were just too many people in the room. Hillary did remark at the outset that this gathering was quite different from the usual early campaign fare in Iowa, and, to her credit, promised more traditional retail politicking to come in keeping with the tradition of spoiling Iowa caucus participants rotten. I should note that later in the day she held an event in Cedar Rapids with only about 150 people, so there is hope once the initial media frenzy subsides a bit.

So I didn’t get to ask the question I had planned to ask. I’ll have to save that for the next local Hillary event, which will hopefully come soon. In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in looking over some of the mainstream press coverage of the event:

Des Moines Register
New York Times
Washington Post (and another piece here)
Los Angeles Times
Seattle Times


Friday, January 26, 2007

Scorecard Update

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 724

As expected, Joe Biden is throwing his hat into the ring; reports say he’ll officially announce next Wednesday, January 31.

So now seems an opportune moment to update the campaign scorecard:
Senator John Kerry - MA (1/24/07)
Senator Evan Baye - Indiana (12/16/06)
Former Senator Tom Daschle - SD (12/2/06)
Sen. Russ Feingold - Wisconsin (11/12/06)
Former Governor Mark Warner - Virginia (10/12/06)

In for Sure:
Senator Joseph Biden - DE (1/31/07)
Senator Christopher Dodd - CT (1/11/07)
Former Senator John Edwards – NC (12/28/06)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich - OH (12/11/06)
Former Governor Tom Vilsack - IA (11/30/06)
Former Senator Mike Gravel - AR (4/17/06)

The Explorer’s Club:
Governor Bill Richardson - NM (1/21/07)
Senator Hillary Clinton – NY (1/20/07)
Senator Barak Obama - IL (1/16/07)

Still On the Sidelines:
Former Vice President Al Gore - hunch: he could be waiting to see how “An Inconvenient Truth” does on Oscar Night next month before making up his mind!
Former General Wesley Clark
Al Sharpton
Governor Brian Schweitzer - Montana
Sen. Blanche Lincoln - AR
Sen. Barbara Boxer - CA

Have you noticed how many senators have joined the race? There haven’t been this many senators making a White House bid since 1976. As you may recall, all of them were beaten by a former governor, which is one of the few things that keeps Tom Vilsak smiling these days.

And don’t forget: tomorrow is the Hillary event! She hasn’t set foot in the state since chairing the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in 2003, so this really is the kickoff for her. I’ll let you know all about it in the next post, so stay tuned!


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wasting No Time!

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 725

Well, that didn’t take long: Hillary’s first public event in Des Moines is this Saturday already! And, true to my avowed purpose, I will be there, and will tell you all about it. A first hand account from the front lines - that is what this little venture is all about!

OK, so, I’m a little excited.

As to other stuff, I’ve read two separate articles in the last couple of weeks regarding skepticism among African American community leaders about Barak Obama as a presidential contender. I find this puzzling, for a whole host of reasons. It is surprising, in the same way it might be if you started reading about doubts surrounding Hillary Clinton’s ability to win the women’s vote. I’ll just shake my head over the whole thing for now and refer you to the articles themselves so you can form your own opinion. Here’s the piece from the LA Times, and the story from the Washington Post. I would really like to see comments from others about this and hear your thoughts about it all.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

'08! Oh, Wait...

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 726

Another day with lots of stuff happening.

Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry announced today that he wouldn’t be a candidate for the Democratic nomination this time around. But don’t think for a moment he didn’t seriously think about it. A couple of months ago, I seemed to run into Kerry every time I turned around in Des Moines: in restaurants, crossing the street in my neighborhood, you name it. He was talent shopping, seeing which Iowa activists, organizers and fundraisers would support him if he chose to run. I think we now know what he must have been hearing from them: “Don’t.”

I like John Kerry. I worked as a volunteer for him in Philadelphia during the 2004 campaign (we won there - don’t know what happened in some other states *arch glare at Ohio*). He would have made a good President. But I am glad he decided not to run this time around. There are some moments that come only once; John Kerry has had his. Fortunately, he continues working in the Senate, where I think he will continue making a difference for the people of his state (alright, alright! His Commonwealth! *touchy Yankees...*). Best of luck to him.

Can you believe all the goings on in just the last week? And there’s still nearly a year to go before the Caucuses!

And now a quick few words about last night’s State of the Union address. In a nutshell: Lead Balloon. To be fair, though, the stuff about Ethanol went over big here in Iowa. But overall, I can’t put it better than one unnamed GOP strategist who said, “When you're sitting at 35 [percent public approval rating] and you're telling [the new Democratic majority] what to do after they won an election, they've got to chuckle." You can read the full article from the Washington Post here.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Off to the Races

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 728

Wow! A blizzard of announcements to match this weekend’s snowstorms in the Midwest. The big headlines, of course, went to Hillary Clinton and her announcement that “I’m in. And I’m in to win.” Nice quote, that. Plus, style points to the Clinton campaign for announcing on January 20, exactly 2 years before the next Presidential Inauguration. Reminds me of a novelty post-it note pad I saw in the early 90’s: “President Clinton Called. She Would Like You to Call Her Back Right Away.” Look for that one to make a comeback!

Clinton’s announcement was followed the next day by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was also Secretary of Energy during the (Bill) Clinton Administration. With the field filling up fast, and probably due to grow still further, Richardson will need all the energy he can muster. As Energy Secretary, Richardson stood 16th in line to become President in the event that the evil befell the Chief Executive, along with the Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Secretary of State and the 11 other people in line before him; he’ll be doing very, very well indeed to come even that close during this campaign!

Clinton is rumored to be jetting to Iowa this weekend for some campaigning. I’ll see if I can catch up with her.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Musings on a Parade

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 731

By tradition, when the circus comes to town there’s usually a parade to announce the fact. Those lining the parade route get a chance to preview what will be on offer under the big top: lions, elephants, clowns, acrobats, sideshow attractions, the whole milieu. And those watching the parade can often be split into two main groups: those who will turn out to see the circus, and those who will run away to join it.

With a year to go before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, there is no mistaking that the circus is coming to town. Candidates and potential candidates started turning up in Des Moines a few months back, keeping a low profile while scrambling amongst themselves to lock up the state’s top organizing talent, part of an invisible political ritual that’s sometimes called the “talent primary.” The big dogs are now mostly committed to one candidate or another, and the serious work for the caucuses has already begun.

Publicly, of course, there isn’t much attention being paid to the next Presidential election at this point in the calendar. By and large, I think the candidates and potential candidates prefer it this way, as it allows them to move and shake away from the spotlight. The trick, of course, is to be able to summon the attention when it suits you, to seize the spotlight and hold it for yourself while leaving your fellow candidates in the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. But that comes later.

For now, the campaign is just reaching the stage where people are announcing whether they will be running or not. On the Democratic side - that is to say, my side - here’s the scorecard for those following along at home:
Sen. Evan Baye - Indiana (12/16/06)
Former Senator Tom Daschle - SD (12/2/06)
Sen. Russ Feingold - Wisconsin (11/12/06)
Fromer Virginia Governor Mark Warner (10/12/06)

In for Sure:
Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (11/30/06)
Sen. Christopher Dodd - CT (1/11/07)
Former Senator Mike Gravel - AR (4/17/06)
Former Senator John Edwards – NC (12/28/06)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich - OH (12/11/06)

The Explorer’s Club:
Senator Barak Obama - IL (1/16/07)
Senator Joseph Biden- DE (1/7/07, announces he will form a committee “before the month is out.”)

Still On the Sidelines:
Sen. Hilary Clinton – NY
Gov. Bill Richardson - NM
Sen. John Kerry - MA
Former VP Al Gore
Former General Wesley Clark
Al Sharpton
Governor Brian Schweitzer - Montana
Sen. Blanche Lincoln - AR
Sen. Barbara Boxer - CA

Which brings me back to the parade. Hearing the calliope tuning up in the distance has started me wondering about what I’ll do when the circus comes to town: buy a ticket and enjoy the show, or find a way to work the big top from the inside.

First things first: there wouldn’t be much point to this writing if it were my intent to remain a spectator. So, I will be running off to join the circus. The only question is whose wagon I’ll be hitched to. And the answer is: I don’t know yet.

So, what this blog will be about is my experience in choosing and then working for a Democratic presidential candidate in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. For most local Iowa people with any inclination to participate in the nominating process, I wouldn’t expect there to be much interest. But having grown up in the vast media-driven wholesale politics market of Southern California, where candidates are never met, and rarely seen but on TV, the opportunity to take part in the nominating process at its very beginning, in the retail political market of Des Moines, Iowa, is simply too enticing to allow me to be content at watching the parade go by. Because here, in the coming months, as almost nowhere else, I can realistically expect to shake hands and spend some time chatting with them all: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Kerry (wait – already did that. Remind me to tell you that story in a later post!), John Edwards, the lot of ‘em.

And that’s the direction I think I’ll take initially: form my own version of the exploratory committee, meet the candidates (Geez, people here who are jaded about that are just spoiled rotten!), and find someone I can feel good about working for until the circus pulls up stakes and heads for New Hampshire.

I’ll do this blog with the hope that it will be of interest to other people who want to know what it’s like to be here and do this.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Deep Background

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 736

What is This?
This is a blog presenting my experiences in participating in the 2008 Iowa Democratic Caucus process. We’ll start on January 14, 2007, and follow the long and twisting road through to the caucuses on January 14, 2008.

And Who Might You Be?
A temporary transplant to the Midwest. I came here in February 2005 fresh from Philadelphia, Seattle before that, L.A. before that. Thus, for me, retail politics has always been the province of others. Until now.

I have no journalistic pretensions, and make no attempt at producing a political news site. Most likely, in fact, if it is actually news, you’ll read about it here last of any site on the internet. And while I will make very free with my personal political opinions, I expect this will occur within the context of framing my reaction to one or another event or candidate. I don’t intend to try to necessarily persuade readers that I am right, but do hope to always set out a clear (and hopefully compelling) statement of my views.

So, here’s hoping we’ll both find this to be an interesting tale to tell, and to read. Remember to subscribe to get automatic notification when new entries are posted, and feel free to post your own comments any time you’d like. This could be fun!


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