The view from a mile high: Our Democratic National Convention blog

Editors note: This is the latest in Anthony York’s continuing coverage from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. This link will serve as the de facto running Capitol Weekly blog. Be sure to check it early and often. 

What Obama means in 2010

Wednesday, August 27, 9:16 a.m. 

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has had his issues with Barack Obama. But now Obama may be a key piece of Newsom’s gubernatorial ambitions.

Newsom, who backed Hillary Clinton for president, was snubbed by Obama early in the campaign season. Newsom sources complained that Obama refused to be photographed with the San Francisco Mayor as Obama explored a presidential bid.

Newsom gained national attention for performing gay marriages in San Francisco in violation of state law. In the wake of the 2004 election, in which Republicans used the gay marriage issue to appeal to social moderates in swing states, Newsom was viewed as radioactive by many in the Democratic Party Some even suggested Newsom was part of the reason John Kerry lost to George Bush..

But now, in the spirit of both party unity and perhaps some personal ambition, Newsom is backing Obama. And he is optimistic that an Obama victory may spark a generational change in party leadership that Newsom hopes will help his quest to be governor of California.

Newsom is not an official gubernatorial candidate – yet. But he has hired strategist Garry South and assembled a campaign team as he begins his bid for the statehouse in 2010. And speaking to Capitol Weekly in Denver Wednesday, Newsom was not shy about making a case for his gubernatorial candidacy based on his age, and that of his chief rival in the race, attorney general Jerry Brown.

The 70-year-old Brown is, for now, the prohibitive gubernatorial favorite. When asked whether Brown and Newsom’s age could become an issue in a hypothetical 2010 governor’s race, Newsom said, “It should be.”

And Newsom was clear – a victory by Barack Obama in November will make it easier for the 40-year-old San Francisco mayor to make his case to California voters.

So what else is on the agenda? Newsom talks a lot about health care, and the environment, and is beginning to focus more on intrinsically Sacramento issues.

“Maybe it’s time to look at the two-thirds requirement” to pass a state budget he says. He says the current budget standoff is the result of a “tyranny of the minority,” referring to Republican legislators who have balked at various budget proposals from Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Newsom will also paint himself as a responsible, fiscal moderate. “You’ve never seen an appetite for spending like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,” he says, “but we have been able to pass balanced budgets and bring some of that spending under control.”


A star is born 

Wednesday, Aug. 27, 7:20 a.m. PDT

Brian Schweitzer.

Remember that name, sports fans.

Tuesday night clearly belonged to Hillary Clinton, but before the New York Senator took the stage, the night belonged to Montana governor Brian Schweitzer.

As Virginia Senator-to-be Mark Warner underwhlemed the crowd with his dull if  efficient keynote address, conventioneers got an unexpected lift from a plain-spoken cattle rancher who had them on their feet.

Schweitzer, the governor of Montana — who chose a Republican as his lieutenant governor with “the simple proposition that we could get more done that way” — got the convention hall rocking as he laid out the case of a new American energy policy and for Barack Obama, offering the crowd plenty of red meat along the way.

Schweitzer is the prototype of the remaining hole in the Obama campaign’s reach – a down-to-earth, moderate Democrat from modest means. His speaking slot, right before Hillary Clinton, kept him from getting the big post-game punditry wrap up on the cable networks, but he did not go unnoticed.

Every political convention births new stars. And last night, during Schweitzter’s address, the star was born.

Now, you never know how these things will work out. In 1992, at the convention that nominated Bill Clinton, one of the stars was a little known Democratic governor from Georgia.

That governor, Zell Miller, charmed the New York convention hall with his folksy charm. Later, he would become a U.S. Senator, and a constant pain in the neck for the Democratic Party leadership.

But for now, if you’re keeping score at home, give Mark Warner a minus point, and a big plus for Brian Schweitzer.

Obama drama
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 10:32 PDT

Lingering tensions between the Clinton and Obama loyalists has been a running theme of this convention. Despite Sen. Hillary Clinton’s speech tonight, in which she once again gave a clear and impassioned plea for her supporters to back Barack Obama, some Clinton delegates are still pushing for a full roll call vote, and the chance to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton on the convention floor Wednesday.

Negotiations over Wednesday night’s political choreography are ongoing between the Obama and Clinton campaigns. Clinton is expected to meet with her pledged delegates Wednesday afternoon, and is widely expected to release her delegates to cast their votes for Barack Obama.

Regardless of the relationship between the two Senators, lingering tensions among their supporters persist. One California delegate attended a meeting of Latino delegates Tuesday, and said, “the air was tense” between Clinton and Obama forces in the meeting.

Signs of those tensions are present, though faintly, inside the California convention delegation. Clinton has a total of 232 delegates among the Californians, compared to 203 for Obama. A handful of hard-core Clinton supporters, led by attorney and media-attention-lover Gloria Alred, are calling for a full roll call vote Wednesday.

Complicating the logistics of tomorrow’s Clinton delegate meeting was the news Tuesday that larger delegations, like California, may begin the process of collecting votes from delegates at breakfast Wednesday.

“It can take hours to get votes from California,” said state Party Chairman Art Torres. “If we were Vermont, we ould vote in a half an hour.”

Steve Maviglio, a Clinton delegate from Sacramento, said he intends to cast his vote for Clinton. “I pledged to vote for Hilliary to those who vote for me (as a delegate), Maviglio said. “Unless she says differently, that’s my plan.”

But Maviglio added, he is ready to cast his vote for Obama, if Clinton requests. But he would not mind if there is a roll call on the convention floor Wednesday night. “If putting her name up and allowing votes promotes party unity, then I’m all for it,” he said.

But other Clinton delegates have already moved on. “I supported her strongly, but I’m looking ahead. I’m looking to the future,” said Karen Skelton, another Clinton delegate from Sacramento.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Tuesday, Aug 26, 8:35 a.m.

I awoke in Denver this morning after something approaching a normal night's sleep. This morning, I had a quasi-real breakfast. After two days with virtually no sleep, my body is adjusting, and returning to a somewhat normal schedule.

And I'm not at all convinced that's a good thing.

I arrived here late Sunday night – a night that turned out
to be even later than planned thanks to Super Shuttle and Jack Daniels. The next day was a caffeine-addled adrenaline rush, powered by little sleep, less food. But there was caffeine enough to make up for it.

That mental space — a glassy-eyed lack of total clarity — seemed just about the right mindset to cover the Democratic Disneyland here in Denver. This place is not the real world: sports bars don't normally have CNN or C-SPAN on all 15 screens; people in the real world don't wear those hats. They just don't.

To properly observe these goings on, you should probably tweak your mind and body accordingly.

But last night, I slept enough to be tired today, drank enough to have a headache this morning. Of course, I'm going to attribute it to the mountain air — 'Mile-it is,' I've heard it called. That sounds a hell of a lot better than a hangover.

Meanwhile, an anxious media is ready for tonight's sideshow. The media here is spoiling for a fight between the Clintons and the Obamas, and they're determined to get it. Frankly, outside of a long, passionate Al and Tipper-style kiss in front of thousands of conventioneers, there's just nothing Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton can do about it.

Monday night was about Barack Obama as a family man. His wife, Michelle, was his primary character witness in this four-day case Democrats are making for Obama's candicacy.

But it was a night of determined hand-offs and, indeed, this seems to be an emerging theme of this convention.

Monday was the gray eminence hand-off. Ted Kennedy spoke, and gesticulated Germanicly. As he did, the new party elder, Joe Biden, rose to salute him at every turn. It may not have played that way in the convention hall, but watching the replay on TV, the storyline was clear. Kennedy was imploring Biden to carry on the fight. Monday was also Biden's first as a stand-in for Obama, there to receive the message from Obama's Senate mentor and early, prominent endorser. Camera's panned between the two every time Biden rose to applaud his ailing colleague

Now for the next hand-off. This week, somewhat reluctantly, the Clintons will hand the mantle of Democratic Party leadership off to Barack Obama. Will it happen tonight? Will Obama appear on stage to embrace Hillary Clinton, in hopes of setting a supposedly tense convention at ease? That seems unlikely.

Team Obama has a script for how this week should play. The Clintons will get their say, both tonight and Wednesday, when Bill Clinton addresses the convention hall. And however graceful or clumsy, that is the real hand-off that is coming in Denver. It is the passing of the leadership of the Democratic Party from Bill Clinton, the former president, to Barack Obama, the Democrats' new standard bearer.

Why we blog

Monday, Aug. 25, 1:15 pm

It becomes abundantly clear why there are 8 zillion bloggers swarming like little gnats around downtown Denver this week. If ever there was an event made for blogging, it is a major party political convention.

Because, in case you were wondering, there is no news here.

But there is plenty to see, to observe — plenty of sketches to draw,  snapshots to capture. There is no shortage of color. It’s news that’s in short supply.

Blogs are notorious for elevating the mundane. That’s the only way to survive a week like this one in Denver.

For example, when you walk by a “gentlemen’s cabaret,” across the street from the convention center in Denver, and the marquee reads: “Welcome Democrats. Who ever heard of a nice piece of elephant?” (It took me a little while, but I finally got it) it might be worth a mention, but it's hardly news.

When you see a delegate open up their schwag bag and pull out an Antonio Villaraigosa bobblehead with a slightly horrified look on her face, it’s not news, but it might be worth a mention in a blog post. A Gray Davis sighting in the lobby of the Sheraton — where the California delegation is staying — looking pale, rested and ready (jeans, jacket, no tie, thank you very much) – not news, but maybe something to blog about.

Even the “big stories” this week are armchair psychological meta-stories – Will Obama and Hillary really make up? Will Ted Kennedy speak tonight? Interesting, sure, but not exactly hard news.

And in the absence of news, what are we to do? Do we despair? Do we realize that our expensive journies here are largely meaningless in the grand scheme of things?

No, that kind of self-reflection would be suicide. We must persevere, we must soldier on.

And so, we blog…

Hillary to Latinos: Unite behind Obama

Monday, Aug. 25, 10:07 a.m.

Hillary Clinton came to speak to the Hispanic Caucus Monday and strongly urged Latino Democrats to support Barack Obama.

Clinton said she was "forever grateful" for Latino support, but said, "I am asking you, those of you who supported me…to work as hard for Barack Obama as you did for me," she told a raucous standing ovation from more than 200 caucus members.

Clinton blasted Republicans for using her image in ads against Obama. "I know that the Republicans and Senator McCain's campaign are hoping to divide us," said Clinton. "They are running ads using my words and Senator Biden's words. Well, I have seen those ads and here's what I have to say: I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message."

Clinton consistently polled well with Latinos during the primary election campaign.

Obama's support among Latinos ranks far behind Clinton's. They helped the New York senator win popular-vote primary victorys in Texas, California, New York and other states with large Latino populations.

Stood up

Monday, Aug. 25, 8:36 a.m. 

Well, so much for catharsis.

Due to “scheduling conflicts,” Sen. Hillary Clinton did not speak to the California delegation this morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still addressed the group, along with a host of other California elected officials.

Pelosi alluded to Clinton’s campaign without mentioning the New York Senator by name, and spoke directly to Clinton’s supporters. “I had the luxury of being neutral (in the presidential campaign). It’s disappointing when your candidate does not win,” she said.

“But as we gather here, and we network and we congregate and we discuss issues, remember it’s not just about us and what our feelings are about the campaigns. It’s about the hopes, aspirations and challenges of the American people, and they are looking to us to come out of this convention organized and with unity … and ready to take this country in a new direction.”

Pelosi’s call for healing was received with tepid applause.

Maybe it was the early hour, but as Pelosi extolled Obama, who she said was “gifted by god,” the only sound that could be heard was the clanking of silverware.

When Controller John Chiang was introduced, by contrast, he received a standing ovation from the breakfast-eating Democrats.

Now, you can’t read too much into this, given the large room, and the fact that it is very early, both in the week and the morning. But it was not a thunderous Obama ovation.

To be fair, when California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres mentioned that Michelle Obama would address the convention hall tonight, there was very enthusiastic applause.

State Sen. Dean Florez, one of five legislators in attendance (John Laird, Alex Padilla, L
ori Saldaña and Mike Davis were the others) led the crowd in a chant of “we are one,” but it didn’t exactly shake the rafters. And while the vast majority of Democrats are touting unity, this morning will do nothing to put the Clinton vs. Obama story to rest.  

The Credentialing process
Monday, Aug 25, 7:40 a.m.

DENVER, Colo. — The Democratic National Convention is sort of like Studio 54. There is a clear status-oriented hierarchy that determines exactly where you can and cannot go.

As with Studio 54, some of these entitle you to more booze, or free food. Sometimes it just allows you to get closer to the stage.

Of course, that’s where the similarities between this convention and Studio 54 end.

But better access  means credentials. Dozens of different credentials, each of which entitles you access behind one new trap door, or velvet rope, or, perhaps, access into one new circle of hell.

These credentials are not handsome. They are large, obnoxious, rectangular contraptions – some with holograms, some that look like they were run of at the neighborhood Kinkos. They hang from yarn, or metal laniards. They are all, in their way, important, if not as important as their keepers would have you believe.

This morning, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton speak to the California delegation over breakfast. Entry requires the nice, lime-green credential issued by the California Democratic Party. Which we’ve got. LAter in the day, it's off to get the credential for the main hall, which should be a barrell of laughs.

This California delegation is strongly pro-Clinton. And the New York Senator is likely to receive a thunderous ovation this morning as she says thank you, and goodbye for now, to hundreds of her supporters. It is one of the most interesting psychological subplots of this week, and today’s breakfast will offer the first round of clues of the internal temperature of the delegation, and the convention hall, this week.

On the road

Monday, August 24, 10 p.m.

DENVER, Colo. — The flight is about two-thirds full, less crowded than I thought a non-stop from Sacramento to Denver would be the day before the Democratic National Convention is set to begin. Maybe the empties are from all the legislators who cancelled their trips. Maybe it’s because it’s Sunday night, and the party’s already started without us.

There are a few Capitol types on the plane. There are assorted lobbyists, vaguely familiar political faces, and at least one elected official. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is on this last flight into the Mile High City, with his wife and body man, prepping for his four days in Denver.

For pols like Garamendi, and others, conventions are prime schoomzing time, a time to introduce, or reintroduce, yourself to activists and potential donors. And the fact that Garamendi comes into Denver as the only declared candidate for governor (Gavin Newsom is still ‘exploring’), it allows him to speak about 2010 with a bit more clarity – to more openly make the ask.

Barack Obama may be the main story, but there are thousands of pols gathered in Denver to write the next chapter in their own political narratives. And Garamendi hopes Denver will be part of the two-year road that launches him into the governor’s office in 2010.

In New York in 1992, Garamendi was chairman of the California Clinton Delegation. Though it seems like a distant memory now, that was the year Jerry Brown last ran for president, the year he solicited donations through a toll-free number — a sort of poor-man’s Internet, before online contributions became de rigeur. Has it really been that long?

That year, Brown was the leader of what might now be called the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton had sewn up the nomination, but there were deep ideological divisions between the moderate Clintonites and the wild collection of Brown supporters who were not yet ready to surrender the fight.

Brown was not only the vestige of the progressive wing of the party 16 years ago, he was also a Californian favorite son, and had a significant base of support in the California Delegation, about 40 percent Garamendi estimates, and his job was, in part, to keep the Brown forces in check, as they routinely clamored for a louder voice, and more attention.

There is not expected to be as much drama for Garamendi this time around. The real work for Garamendi, and hundreds of other Democratic politicians seeking higher office who are in Denver this week, will be to network. He will keep a busy schedule here, meeting with various Democratic groups, and keeping a surprisingly busy interview schedule.

The lieutenant governor comes to Denver as a Clinton delegate, fully expecting to be released to be able to vote for Barack Obama later this week. Hey, Obama already took Garamendi’s advice by selecting Joe Biden as his running mate. Let the healing begin!

Whether other Clinton loyalists are as amenable remains to be seen. Clinton is scheduled to address the California delegation for breakfast Monday morning. Remember, the California delegation is mostly made up of Clinton delegates, and at least some of them are sure to be among those who are not 100 percent behind Obama.

Clinton delegate Alice Huffman told KCRA Sunday that former Clinton supporters may be somewhat reserved in their support for Obama-Biden.  "Just don't take them (Clinton supporters) for granted," Huffman said. "Don't just say they have no place to go but show a little appreciation."

Tomorrow should mark the beginning of the “catharsis” that the Obama team hopes will come when Hillary Clinton’s name is entered into nomination later this week. But one can’t help but think that that hours-long display, culminating with a pre-ordained Obama triumph, will be a vivid exclamation point on the end of Clintons’ presidential legacy.

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