Sunday, February 11, 2007

DNC Winter Meeting Wrap Up

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 709

Now for a few belated thoughts in the aftermath of last weekend’s DNC Winter Meeting. Here are my impressions after watching the candidates speak:
Biden – Would anyone be surprised if I said he got off to a slow start? He began his speech with an awkwardly-delivered joke about the Observer debacle, and followed it with yet another apology. Will Biden’s campaign be able to find a way to move on?
Clark – Not much dynamism, but Clark spoke movingly and personally about the war. Polite applause.
Clinton – Hillary continues to refine and polish, but she gave basically the same speech to the DNC that she gave here the previous week. For all that, Senator Clinton got more standing ovations than any other speaker, which I took to be more an indication from the party establishment of her position at the head of the field than genuine admiration for what she said. BTW, no emails came from the Clinton campaign touting her DNC speech, but I did get a note thanking me for attending the January 27 event in Des Moines, and promising lots more meetings on a smaller scale in keeping with the retail tradition of Iowa caucus politics. Emails like that one tell me that Hillary’s campaign gets it.
Dodd – America the tired nation: probably not the note any presidential candidate wants to strike. Dodd’s point was that the country was tired of the Bush administration, and he’s right; but saying “America is tired” over and over again starts to take on its own context after a few repetitions. I’m beginning to suspect this campaign is meant as more of a Last Hurrah for Chris Dodd than a serious run for the White House.
Edwards –According to an email I received from Edwards’ campaign, his speech “blew the roof off” of the DNC Winter Meeting. Hmmm…not as such; more of a sweeping appeal to emotion and union support, I’d say. One can see how it was that Edwards made millions as a trial lawyer, swaying juries on behalf of his clients, but I remain unconvinced (to this point) that he’s got what it takes to sway the electorate. POSTSCRIPT: Edwards followed up his speech by announcing his plan for universal health insurance. The proposals strike me as trying to address the health coverage issue with a series of sideways blows inartfully portrayed as a frontal assault. Any campaign that cannot do better needs to get into another line of work.
Gravel – If you don’t know who Mike Gravel is, let me assure you that there is good reason. I’m pretty sure most Rotary clubs around the country could produce an equally qualified candidate for the White House.
Kucinich – Wow. Dennis Kucinich may well be the most colorless American politician since Calvin Coolidge.
Obama – Extraordinarily impressive, Barack showed up for the serious moment. No campaign placards, no cheesy classic rock anthem. You could’ve heard a pin drop during most of his speech.
Richardson –I received an email from Richardson’s campaign this past week telling me that his speech was “electrifying.” I wouldn’t go anything like that far, but Richardson made a solid address, built around a critique of the Bush administration and his own record as governor of New Mexico. The delivery, unfortunately, was a bit flat and conventional, but Richardson’s speech was well worth listening to.
Vilsack – Played the “I’m an outsider” card. That Vilsack is not part of the Washington establishment is indisputable, but choosing that as his theme is perhaps making too much of a good thing. Whatever anger the electorate may have had pent up about the perennial “mess in Washington” was purged, at least for the time being, in last November’s elections. If matching your message to the mood of the country is part of winning (and, of course, it is), then the Vilsack campaign needs to go back and do some serious homework.

OK, so now I’m off to the Obama rally in Ames. The venue has been moved from a gymnasium to the largest indoor stadium on campus, so I’m not sure how close I’ll be able to get to the stage, let alone to Senator Obama himself. Check back on Monday, though, and I’ll give you all the details.


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