Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Edwards assails U.S. arms sales to Arabs"


Democrat John Edwards said the Bush administration's plan to sell $20 billion worth of weapons to friendly Arab states amounted to a foreign policy of convenience and he will take a tougher stance with Saudi Arabia if elected president.
Edwards said the United States should require the Saudi government to shut down the movement of terrorists across its borders, help stabilize the Iraqi government and participate more seriously in regional security before they are offered weapons.

"Whether it's Iraq or terrorism, the Saudis have fallen way short of what they need to be doing," the 2004 vice presidential nominee told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "And the Bush administration's response is to sell them $20 billion worth of arms, which is short-term and convenient and not what the United States should be doing."

Edwards is the first Democratic presidential candidate to speak out against the deal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia Tuesday as part of a two-day visit with Arab allies that opened talks on the proposed U.S. arms package.

Edwards said the arms deal could backfire by giving Iran an incentive to build its nuclear strength.

"They have to try to offset the conventional arms deficiencies that they're faced with," Edwards said. "That's the whole problem with this idea that you deal with these things in terms of what's helpful at the moment instead of what needs to be done over the long term."

Edwards called the AP from a refueling stop in Garden City, Kan., between campaign stops in California and Virginia, where he helped raise about $42,000 for legislative candidates. Virginia Democrats are trying to regain control of the state Senate majority they lost 12 years ago so that they will have more influence in redrawing congressional boundaries in 2011.

Edwards told the crowd of about 100 that he wanted to help because "we cannot move progressive agendas without having stronger positions in these state legislatures."
Howie P.S.: On another front, Ben Smith (Politico) writes on "Edwards: Full-court press against media."

"Obama's Television Ad: Take It Back" (with video)

Marc Ambinder:
Lots to say about this third television ad (00:31) of Barack Obama's, but for now, just know that it's remarkable how confidently Obama's wields his consensus-bipartisan message in front of partisan Democratic audiences. The ad begins tomorrow. The size and duration of the buy are unknown at this point.
OBAMA SYNC: I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But, I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

ANNCR V/O: In the Senate, Barack Obama challenged both parties to pass tough new ethics rules and rein in the power of lobbyists.

And he’s leading by example, refusing contributions from PACs and Washington lobbyists who have too much power today.

OBAMA SYNC: They think they own this government. But we're here today to take it back.

Howie P.S.: One of the first to comment on this post is Nicholas Beaudrot, one of the hosts of Seattle's "Drinking Liberally," happening on Tuesday nights @8pm at the Montlake Ale House.

Seeing Is Believing: "Dino Rossi's Main Man" (video)

Howie Caption: I try to keep my gaze averted from the wingnuts (video (02:32), but this time, "The Devil Made Me Do It." Mr. Guzzo used to be a commentator for KIRO-TV, the same outfit where Mr. Goldstein now holds forth (7-10PM weekends) on the AM radio side of the business. Harder to believe, it is also said that Mr. Guzzo was once the managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. H/t to Goldy. Correction: Geov Parrish sets the record straight:
KIRO Radio and TV share call letters and history, but they are not the "same outfit." They have not been co-owned for over a decade.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jay Inslee Steps Up

First Read (MSNBC):
From NBC's Mike Viqueira
A group of House Democrats will introduce a resolution calling on the Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) will sponsor the measure. It will be dropped in the hopper tomorrow.

It's too early to say whether it will actually get anywhere.

Here's the text of resolution...

Directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and
1 Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall
2 investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the
3 House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales,
4 Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes
5 and misdemeanors.

Michelle Obama in Seattle (photos)


Hendrik Hertzberg (The New Yorker):
At first glance, next year’s Presidential election looks like a blowout. But it might not be. Luckily for the incumbent party, neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney will be running; indeed, the election of 2008 will be the first since 1952 without a sitting President or Vice-President on the ballot. At the moment, survey research reflects a generic public preference for a Democratic victory next year. Still, despite everything, there are nearly as many polls showing particular Republicans beating particular Democrats as vice versa. So this election could be another close one. If it is, the winner may turn out to have been chosen not on November 4, 2008, but five months earlier, on June 3rd.
Two weeks ago, one of the most important Republican lawyers in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all fifty-five of California’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Instead, it would award two of them to the statewide winner and the rest, one by one, to the winner in each congressional district. Nineteen of the fifty-three districts are represented by Republicans, but Bush carried twenty-two districts in 2004. The bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes—votes that it wouldn’t get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union.

The Tuesday after the first Monday in June is California’s traditional Primary Day. But it’s not the one that everybody will be paying attention to. Five months ago, the legislature hastily moved the Presidential part up to February 5th, joining a stampede of states hoping to claim a piece of the early-state action previously reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire. June 3rd will be an altogether sleepier, low-turnout affair. There may be a few scattered contests for legislative nominations, but the only statewide items on the ballot will be initiatives. More than two dozen have been filed so far, ranging from a proposal to start a state-run Internet poker site to pay for filling potholes to a redundant slew of anti-gay-marriage measures. Few will make it to the ballot. Many are not even intended to; they’re a feint in some byzantine negotiation, or just a cheap attempt to get a little attention—for a two-hundred-dollar fee, anyone can file one. (Actually getting one on the ballot requires more than four hundred thousand signatures, and the outfits that collect them usually charge a dollar or two per signature.) Initiative No. 07-0032—the Presidential Election Reform Act—is different. It’s serious. Its backers have access to serious money. And it could pass.

Nominally, the sponsor of No. 07-0032 is Californians for Equal Representation. But that’s just a letterhead—there’s no such organization. Its address is the office suite of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, the law firm for the California Republican Party, and its covering letter is signed by Thomas W. Hiltachk, the firm’s managing partner and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal lawyer for election matters. Hiltachk and his firm have been involved in many well-financed ballot initiatives before, including the recall that put Arnold in Sacramento. They specialize in initiatives that are the opposite of what they sound like—the Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006, for example. It would have raised the state minimum wage slightly—by a lesser amount than it has since been raised—and, in the fine print, would have made it impossible ever to raise it again except by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, while, for good measure, eliminating overtime for millions of workers.

“Equal Representation” sounds good, too. And the winner-take-all rule, which is in force in all but two states, does seem unfair on the face of it. (The two are Maine and Nebraska, which use congressional-district allocation. But they are so small—only five districts between them—and so homogeneous that neither has ever split its electoral votes.) It would be obviously unjust for a state to give all its legislative seats to the party that gets the most votes statewide. So why should Party A get a hundred per cent of that state’s electoral votes if forty per cent of its voters support Party B? No wonder Democrats and Republicans alike initially react to this proposal in a strongly positive way. To most people, the electoral-college status quo feels intuitively wrong. So does war. But that doesn’t make unilateral disarmament a no-brainer.

If California does what No. 07-0032 calls for while everybody else is still going with winner take all by state, the real-world result will be to give Party B (in this case the Republicans) an unearned, Ohio-size gift of electoral votes. In a narrow sense, that’s good if you like Party B, but not so good if you like Party A (in this case the Democrats). Or if you think that in a democracy everybody ought to play by roughly the same rules. Nor, by the way, is Party B the only offender. Last week, the Democratic-controlled legislature of North Carolina, a state that has gone Republican in every Presidential election since 1976, enthusiastically took up a bill to do the same mischief as the California initiative. The grab would be smaller—it would appropriate perhaps three or four of North Carolina’s fifteen electoral votes for the Democrats—but the hands would be just as dirty.

The California initiative flunks even the categorical-imperative test. Imagine, as a thought experiment, that all the states were to adopt this “reform” at once. Electoral votes would still be winner take all, only by congressional district rather than by state. Instead of ten battleground states and forty spectator states, we’d have thirty-five battleground districts and four hundred spectator districts. The red-blue map would be more mottled, and in some states more people might get to see campaign commercials, because media markets usually take in more than one district. But congressional districts are as gerrymandered as human ingenuity and computer power can make them. The electoral-vote result in ninety per cent of the country would still be a foregone conclusion, no matter how close the race.

California Initiative No. 07-0032 is an audacious power play packaged as a step forward for democratic fairness. It’s the lotusland equivalent of Tom DeLay’s 2003 midterm redistricting in Texas, except with a sweeter smell, a better disguise, and larger stakes. And the only way Californians will reject it is if they have a chance to think about it first.
Howie P.S.: When I went to junior high with him, Mr. Hertzberg was the only student to walk around with four daily newspapers in his hands.

"A True Political Partner"

Aboard a small chartered jet, Elizabeth Edwards -- lawyer, mother, author, cancer patient, candidate's wife -- was flying recently from New Hampshire to Iowa. She had spent the morning campaigning solo and was meeting her husband, John Edwards, and their younger daughter, Emma Claire, for two days of joint appearances. Son Jack was curled up under a blanket in the back of the cabin.
Among political insiders who closely follow the presidential race and gossip about who is up and who is down in every campaign, Elizabeth Edwards is seen as the hidden hand behind virtually every important decision regarding her husband's second bid for the White House.

"Boy, that would be completely wrong," she said with a laugh when asked about those perceptions. "Completely wrong."

Four months ago, Edwards, 58, received a diagnosis of incurable cancer, a finding that would have forced many other people to the sidelines. Instead, she has emerged as the most visible and effective advocate for her husband, the campaign's most provocative personality and newest television star.

What about de facto campaign manager?

"I get a lot more credit for, you know, being the puppeteer than I am," she said. "I express my opinion. Honestly, I'm not the decision maker."

In large part because of her illness and a best-selling book about her life, Edwards has achieved the kind of celebrity stature that befits someone who has appeared on "Oprah" and whose struggles have become very public.

Her cancer now helps to define her persona, but making John Edwards president also remains at the forefront of her life. If she is neither a political strategist nor the overseer of operations at Edwards's North Carolina headquarters, her influence on the broad outlines and some details of the Democratic former senator's campaign is without question.

"She's not micromanaging," said one strategist close to the campaign, "but to say she's just the spouse who travels occasionally would be a tremendous understatement."

She is the candidate's closest friend and most important confidant -- and co-architect of a campaign for the White House that differs in tone, style and substance from the one John Edwards ran four years ago, first as a presidential candidate and then as Sen. John F. Kerry's running mate. This one is designed to be more of a grass-roots insurgency -- bolder and more left-leaning -- and is set up so that the candidate's judgments and instincts take precedence over the advice of professional consultants.

Edwards said she and her husband gained confidence from the last campaign to run this one the way they thought best, rather than relying excessively on the advice of others.

"It seemed a lot more like theater the first time," she said. "Your life was run by advance and polling people and advisers [who would say], 'Say this line and say it this way, not that way.' So it seemed very theatrical. You felt like, you know, it was possible to flub your lines. It made you nervous about things because you could mess it up somehow, and that was really contrary to who John is and who I am. But we tried to do it because we had never done it before. We tried to do it the way we were told by people who had lots of experience. We're now liberated from that, and it's great."

No one believes more in her husband's potential to be president than Elizabeth Edwards. But her confidence and belief in his character are so absolute, they raise questions about whether candidate and wife can see their campaign critically enough, or have strong, independent voices around them to challenge the candidate when necessary.

Four years ago Edwards participated in many of the nuts-and-bolts meetings and decisions of the campaign. This time she does far less of that, aides say. But she is never shy about offering advice based on her sense of what is best for her husband and her interaction with people on the campaign trail, and she can be demanding and sometimes intimidating to the staff, according to those who have worked in this and previous campaigns.

"People say things to me all the time that grossly inflate my importance," Edwards said during another recent conversation. "There's no way to cut through it. If they believe it, it's so."

She plays a role in personnel decisions, but she plays it down. "I don't have any approval of anybody, except people who are in my world," she said. "Like who do you want to travel with you, and people who interact with us. I give feedback, you know. We have a chief of staff. If something goes right or something goes wrong, I let her know so she can do her job effectively."

In a recent phone interview, Edwards said she could not even recall the name of one of the campaign's newest hires and said she had not been involved in recent staff recruitments. Asked who is now running the campaign, she laughed again. "All these stories about my pulling the strings -- honestly, I don't know."
Policy Wonk and Provocateur

Edwards is a voracious consumer of information -- briefing books, the Internet, conversations with voters. More than one aide has received a late-night phone call asking for more information about something or an e-mail in the middle of the night -- Edwards admits she is an insomniac -- with an idea for the campaign.

She does not shrink from descriptions of her as someone who weighs in regularly on major policy decisions. She and her husband generally share the same views about issues, although they sometimes disagree. In 2002, she questioned whether her husband should support the resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war, believing there was no immediate provocation from Saddam Hussein. "And as you can see," she said, "I did not win the day."

When Edwards began discussing what kind of health-care plan to propose in this campaign, she preferred a more radical change, urging the campaign to consider an individual-based system rather than the existing employer-based system to achieve universal coverage. In the end, John Edwards adopted a plan that relies heavily on employer-based insurance while giving consumers the choice of buying into a Medicare-like option that could lead to something approaching a single-payer system. Aides say Elizabeth Edwards ended up supporting that blueprint.

She also disagrees with her husband on the issue of same-sex marriage. She supports it; he does not. He supports civil unions but has said that his small-town, Baptist upbringing has made him reluctant to endorse recognition of marriage.

Edwards said she participates in fewer policy discussions now than in the past, but others say she is deeply involved in any significant policy debate. Her public role, however, has become increasingly clear: She is the campaign's chief surrogate and provocateur.

Last month, she phoned in to MSNBC's "Hardball" to confront conservative firebrand Ann Coulter. A few weeks later, during an interview with Salon.com, she criticized the two leading Democratic candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), saying her husband would be a better advocate for women than Clinton and arguing that neither Clinton nor Obama had offered a compelling rationale for their candidacies.

Edwards said she is uncomfortable with all the attention those incidents received. "None of this was purposeful," she said. "Absolutely none. Zero."

Yet attention is nothing new to Edwards. She gained some prominence in the 2004 campaign, much more when breast cancer was diagnosed as the campaign ended. Her book, "Saving Graces," helped her to reach an even larger audience. And since March, she has been fighting a new -- and widely publicized -- battle with cancer.

"She has her own book, and she has her own disease," said Jennifer Palmieri, who was an adviser during the first campaign and is a close friend. "It's a very hard place to live."

But long before her diagnosis, Edwards knew tragedy in her life. On April 4, 1996, the Edwards's oldest child, Wade, was killed in an automobile accident at 16. Her book recounts in extraordinarily poignant detail her attempts to cope with the loss.

"What I expected of myself was wholly unrealistic," she said recently. "I expected I was going to be able to be stoical, I was going to be able to carry on. I didn't realize it was going to be like a Mack truck hitting me and us all the time when we were unsuspecting."

For many months, she visited Wade's grave site every day. She took him his SAT score when it arrived after his death. She read him books from his classmates' school reading list.

Today, as driven as she is by her desire to help elect her husband president, Edwards also has interests beyond the campaign. Friends say she is, by nature, a homebody. She is an active mother of three -- Emma Claire, 9; Jack, 7; and Cate, 25 -- and the daughter of aging parents who recently moved to an assisted-care facility in North Carolina.

She is a shopper. She likes to run by Target on Tuesdays, when the newest DVDs are released. On the campaign trail, she makes time for shopping detours, as she did last month in Iowa, unexpectedly getting out of the van and leaving her husband to go on alone to speak to a labor group.

"She jumped out in the middle of an intersection," John Edwards explained in mock horror shortly after it happened.

"At the corner," she replied.

"Sweetie, but there were no crosswalks or anything," he said. "There were cars everywhere."

"I just waited until there were no cars, and I walked with the light," she said firmly.

All for a pair of socks for Father's Day.

Campaigning solo, Elizabeth Edwards is viewed as an inspirational figure, welcomed enthusiastically by her audiences. She fields detailed questions about her husband's views on issues. A stickler for precision and accuracy, she sometimes pauses to note that she does not have all the details, but in most cases she is fully fluent on what the candidate has proposed and why.

Her unexpected asides can offer a window into her spirited and sometimes vulnerable personality. Early in June, Edwards was opening the campaign's local office in Concord, N.H. A small group of supporters had turned out, and they were munching on doughnuts and drinking coffee when she arrived.

As she started to speak, two photographers plunked down on the floor in front of her, shooting from the ground up. She gave them an alarmed look. "That is not an angle women like their picture taken," she admonished them, to no avail.

Arriving at a house party in Meredith, N.H., a few weeks later, she was greeted by a woman who said her husband was in the state legislature. "So you're another person with a derivative existence," she joked.
More Instinct, Fewer Strategists

After Wade's death, the Internet was one of the places Edwards found comfort and support -- before most people knew what the Internet was all about. That experience buoyed her during a time of immeasurable grief, but it also provided a practical lesson when her husband decided to run for president. She understood that the Web could become a powerful tool to create communities, whether for grieving parents or political activists.

Edwards said she pushed in 2004 to create a more dynamic online presence, one that would generate feedback, comments and ultimately support. "We didn't follow through in 2004," she said, noting that Howard Dean became the Internet pioneer in that campaign.

A more robust Internet presence is just one of the changes Edwards and her husband demanded in this campaign. She encouraged his instinct to make poverty a centerpiece of his message, and it is not by accident that there has been no dominant general strategist this time. Some Democrats believe that Joe Trippi, who was Dean's campaign manager in 2004 and recently joined the Edwards campaign, may come to play such a role, but others insist he is one of several senior aides guiding the operation.

Neither Edwards is fond of power political consultants, and in 2003, John Edwards had a very public breakup with veteran strategist Bob Shrum, who had handled his Senate campaign in 1998. The wounds still have not healed. Shrum drew a critical portrait of John Edwards in his recent book, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," and asserted that Edwards had voted for the 2002 Iraq resolution largely on Shrum's advice. He wrote that he regrets giving the advice.

Elizabeth Edwards delivered a pointed rebuttal to the book's account during a CNN interview shortly after its publication. "As far as I can tell there's not a single passage that is accurate," she said of Shrum's descriptions of the Edwards campaign.

Shrum said last week that her comment did not deal with the specifics of what he wrote, but he added, "I have great respect for Elizabeth Edwards, and I have nothing negative to say about her."

In 2004, there was a falling out with David Axelrod, the campaign's media consultant and senior strategist, and the advertising was shifted to another consultant, Marius Penczner. "I don't think David ever got John," Edwards said.

Asked for comment, Axelrod e-mailed: "I have a great deal of affection and respect for Elizabeth and John. There's no doubt we had strategic differences, but I also never doubted her deep, abiding commitment to John and his success."

Edwards recently recalled a moment in the 2004 general election campaign when she lost faith in consultants. It happened when a strategist was explaining a weighting formula by which the campaign advisers planned to schedule John and Elizabeth Edwards and John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, into different media markets.

"It seemed so completely bogus," she said. "It was like somebody had pulled the curtain back in 'The Wizard of Oz.' All of a sudden you saw people pulling levers on a machine that didn't operate anything. No one could have thought that way who'd actually been out hearing these stories and talking to people. . . . That was the magic hand moving people around and saying, 'You say it this way.' "

Still, with savvy consultants, would the current campaign have avoided some of the issues that have arisen this year? Those are now short-handed as the three Hs -- haircuts (at $400 a pop), hedge fund (the candidate's tenure as a hedge fund executive) and house (the 28,000-square-foot home the couple recently had built for their return to North Carolina).

At the height of the haircut flap, Elizabeth Edwards used a humorous quiz to defuse the issue in her introduction of her husband.

"How many people in his family went to college before he did?" she asked. The answer, which many in the audiences knew: none.

"Anybody know what his dad did for a living?" she continued. "Millworker," the audience uniformly responded.

"Anybody know the price of his most expensive haircut?" With that, the audience dissolved in laughter.

In a recent telephone interview, Edwards addressed those critics who say that with more empowered consultants, the campaign might have avoided or at least minimized those distractions. "Consultants are only good if you're going to listen to them," she said. "With the respect to decisions John's made, he listens primarily to his own conscience."

The decision to join the hedge fund came after John Edwards weighed the opportunities afforded by the job, which his wife said included considerable international work and a chance to gain insight into how this growing segment of the investment economy operated. "He didn't go through the portfolio, but he talked to these people [the fund's executives] and knew them to be good people," she said.

As for the haircuts, she said no one in the family knew the cost. Starting with the first campaign, the couple set up a system to authorize someone else to handle their routine bills. Edwards said they did not want to spend their few minutes at home in any month writing checks to pay them. The haircut bill that went to this campaign did not go to a strategist but to someone in finance, who paid it.

"We're not too happy ourselves about paying that much for a haircut," Edwards said. "We didn't need a consultant to tell us to fix that problem."

She also explained the thinking behind the new house. "We get heat about the house," she said. "A consultant, I suppose, would have told us not to build the house of our dreams when we came back to North Carolina."

Noting that the couple do not drive fancy cars and that she has never indulged in things such as expensive jewelry, she said, "That's money that John earned, and for the purpose we've always felt was most important."

John Edwards said his wife plays two critical roles in his White House bid. One is to encourage him to speak from his heart. "She will, if I ask her, tell me exactly what she thinks about an issue, but the dominant advice from her -- the recurring theme of all the advice -- is, 'Do what you believe is right.' If I were to say one thing that I've heard from her over and over again, that's it."

The other role may be even more a sign of the bond between the couple, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary today, and the importance they place on the mission they are jointly pursuing: urging her husband not to suspend the campaign when she was told that her cancer had spread.

"Without her saying we're going forward with this, I would have stopped and gone home and taken care of her," he said. "She was very strong and adamant about continuing in this cause, and not just for my sake, but because she believes the same things I believe about the country."

"In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd"

NY Times:
There was something improbable about the new guy from Chicago via Honolulu and Jakarta, Indonesia, the one with the Harvard law degree and the job teaching constitutional law, turning up in Springfield, Ill., in January 1997 among the housewives, ex-mayors and occasional soybean farmer serving in the State Senate.
Early Experience

The new senator, Barack Obama, was a progressive Democrat in a time of tight Republican control. He was a former community organizer in a place where power is famously held by a few. He was a neophyte promising reform in a culture that a University of Illinois political studies professor describes as “really tough and, frankly, still quite corrupt.”

“One of my first comments to Barack was, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ ” said Denny Jacobs, a former senator and self-described “backroom politician, not one of those do-gooders that stands up front and says we got to make changes.”

Senator Obama’s answer? “He looked at me sort of strange.”

Mr. Obama did not bring revolution to Springfield in his eight years in the Senate, the longest chapter in his short public life. But he turned out to be practical and shrewd, a politician capable of playing hardball to win election (he squeezed every opponent out of his first race), a legislator with a sharp eye for an opportunity, a strategist willing to compromise to accomplish things.

He positioned himself early on as a protégé of the powerful Democratic leader, Senator Emil Jones, a beneficiary of the Chicago political machine. He courted collaboration with Republicans. He endured hazing from a few black colleagues, played poker with lobbyists, studiously took up golf. (“An awful lot happens on the golf course,” a friend, Jean Rudd, says he told her.)

By the time he left Springfield in 2004, he had built not only the connections necessary to win election to the United States Senate but a record not inconsistent with his lofty rhetoric of consensus building and bipartisanship.

“He came with a huge dose of practicality,” said Paul L. Williams, a lobbyist in Springfield and former state representative who is a supporter of Mr. Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Williams characterized Mr. Obama’s attitude as, “O.K., that makes sense and sounds great, as I’d like to go to the moon, but right now I’ve only got enough gas to go this far.”

With the assistance of Senator Jones, Mr. Obama helped deliver what is said to have been the first significant campaign finance reform law in Illinois in 25 years. He brought law enforcement groups around to back legislation requiring that homicide interrogations be taped and helped bring about passage of the state’s first racial-profiling law. He was a chief sponsor of a law enhancing tax credits for the working poor, played a central role in negotiations over welfare reform and successfully pushed for increasing child care subsidies.

“I learned that if you’re willing to listen to people, it’s possible to bridge a lot of the differences that dominate the national political debate,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on Friday. “I pretty quickly got to form relationships with Republicans, with individuals from rural parts of the state, and we had a lot in common.”

Not everyone was impressed, at least initially. His “pedigree,” as Mr. Jones calls it with a chuckle, evoked some skepticism. Two black, Democratic state senators from Chicago, Donne E. Trotter and Rickey R. Hendon, who both now say they are Obama supporters, caricatured him as a privileged, know-it-all greenhorn. At times, they seemed to call into question his black credentials, foreshadowing complaints from some African-Americans today that Mr. Obama is “not black enough” because of his biracial heritage and his class.

“We could barely have meetings in caucus because Donne and Rickey would give him hell,” said State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford, a Democrat and former chairwoman of the Senate’s black caucus. “Donne would be, ‘Just because you’re from Harvard, you think you know everything.’ Barack was like the new kid on the block. He was handsome and he was mild mannered and he was well liked. Sometimes there was a little ‘Who’s this? He coming here, he don’t know anything.’ ”

In a Hurry?

His critics say Mr. Obama could have accomplished much more if he had been in less of a hurry to leave the Statehouse behind. Steven J. Rauschenberger, a longtime Republican senator who stepped down this year, said: “He is a very bright but very ambitious person who has always had his eyes on the prize, and it wasn’t Springfield. If he deserves to be president, it is not because he was a great legislator.”

Within three years of his arrival, Mr. Obama ran for Congress, a race he lost. When the Democrats took control of the State Senate in 2003 — and Mr. Jones replaced James Philip, known as Pate, a retired Pepperidge Farm district manager who served as president of the Senate — Mr. Obama made his next move.

“He said to me, ‘You’re now the Senate president,’ ” Mr. Jones recalled. “ ‘You have a lot of power.’ I said, ‘I do?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Tell me what kind of power I have.’ He said, ‘You have the power to make a U.S. senator.’ I said, ‘I do?’ He said, ‘You do.’ I said, ‘If I’ve got that kind of power, do you know of anyone that I can make?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Me.’ ”

The route that had brought Mr. Obama to Springfield was far from typical. Born in Hawaii and raised for a while in Indonesia, he had worked as a community organizer in Chicago after graduating from Columbia College in 1983. Returning from Harvard to practice law and later teach at the University of Chicago, he had run a voter registration drive in the 1992 election.

Three years later, a congressman from the South Side of Chicago was convicted of having sex with a minor. A Democratic state senator from his district, Alice L. Palmer, decided to run for the seat. Carol Anne Harwell, Mr. Obama’s first campaign manager, said Ms. Palmer invited Mr. Obama, then 35, to run for her seat.

But after losing in the primary, Ms. Palmer had second thoughts. A delegation of her supporters asked Mr. Obama to step aside. He not only declined, but his campaign staff challenged the signatures on Ms. Palmer’s campaign petitions and kept her off the ballot. It was nothing personal: They did the same thing to every other Democrat in the race.

“He knocked off the incumbent, so that right there gave him some notoriety,” said Ron Davis, who served as Mr. Obama’s precinct coordinator. “And he ran unopposed — which for a rookie is unheard of.”

He added, “Barack is a quick learner.”

At the time, Mr. Obama said he was running to mobilize people to work for change. He wanted to apply techniques of community organizing to elected office. In a 1995 profile in The Chicago Reader, he said, “What if a politician were to see his job as an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?”

But Springfield was not ideally suited for such an approach. Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 37 to 32 in the Senate when Mr. Obama arrived. Power resided almost exclusively with the “Four Tops” — the Senate president, the House speaker and the minority leaders in each chamber. They controlled committee assignments, the legislative agenda, the staff. They even disbursed campaign money.

“It’s power politics, and it’s politics as a business, and it’s winning and control,” said Kent Redfield, the political studies professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “The mind-set is, it is not the public’s business. That’s part of the culture: It’s about the politicians, and the politicians own the company.”

Asked why he ran for the Senate in a state where rank-and-file lawmakers have been called “mushrooms” (because they are kept in the dark and fed, uh, manure), Mr. Obama said: “Part of it was that the seat opened up. I was living in the district, and the state legislature was a part-time position. It allowed me to get my feet wet in politics and test out whether I could get something done.”

Forming Relationships

From his days as an organizer, Mr. Obama already knew the Democratic leader, Mr. Jones, who had come up through the Democratic organization in Chicago. He had helped Mr. Obama’s group acquire state money for a dropout prevention program that still operates today.

“Well, when he came here, first got elected, he came to me,” Mr. Jones said, ensconced in his corner office in the Statehouse, his head wreathed in a swirl of cigarette smoke. “And he said to me, ‘You know me, you know me quite well.’ He said: ‘You know I like to work hard. So feel free in giving me any tough assignments and everything.’ I said, ‘Good.’ ”

One of the first was campaign finance reform. Illinois had one of the least regulated campaign finance systems in the country and a history of corruption. Paul Simon, the former United States senator, was running a public policy institute at Southern Illinois University and asked each of the four legislative leaders to name a trusted lawmaker to work on a bipartisan ethics bill.

Mr. Jones recalls receiving a call from Abner J. Mikva, a former Chicago congressman, federal judge and friend of Mr. Simon. Judge Mikva, who had once tried to hire Mr. Obama as a law clerk, suggested him for the job. Mr. Jones says he knew that the new senator was hard-working and bright and that few others would want the assignment.

“He caught pure hell,” Mr. Jones said of Mr. Obama. “I actually felt sorry for him at times.”

The job required negotiating across party lines to come up with reform proposals, then presenting them to the Democratic caucus. Senator Kirk Dillard, the Republican Senate president’s appointee, said, “Barack was literally hooted and catcalled in his caucus.” On the Senate floor, Mr. Dillard said, “They would bark their displeasure at me, and then they’d unload on Obama.”

Mr. Obama entered the discussions favoring contribution limits, said Mike Lawrence, now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. But he realized they had no chance of passing. So the legislation, passed in 1998, banned most gifts by lobbyists, prohibited spending campaign money for legislators’ personal use and required electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports.

“I know he wanted to limit contributions by corporations or labor unions, and he certainly wanted to stop the transfers of huge amounts of money from the four legislative caucus leaders into rank-and-file members’ campaigns,” Mr. Dillard said. “But he knew that would never happen. So he got off that kick and thought disclosure was a more practical way to shine sunlight on what sometimes are unsavory practices.”

The disclosure requirement “revolutionized Illinois’s system,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. By giving journalists immediate access to a database of expenditures and contributions, it transformed political reporting. It also, she said, “put Senator Obama on a launching pad and put the mantle of ethics legislator on his crown.”

His role, though, did not endear Mr. Obama to everyone.

Racial Friction Early On

By many accounts, there was already friction between him and Mr. Hendon, whose West Side Chicago district is among the poorest in the state, and Mr. Trotter. When Mr. Trotter and Mr. Obama both ran for Congress two years later — unsuccessfully, it turned out — Mr. Trotter told a reporter that Mr. Obama was viewed in part as “the white man in blackface in our community.”

Mr. Dillard said, “I remember Rickey chiding Obama that, ‘What do you know, Barack? You grew up in Hawaii and you live in Hyde Park. What do you know about the street?’ To which Obama shot back: ‘I know a lot. I didn’t exactly have a rosy childhood. I’m a street organizer by profession and a lot of my area, once you get outside the University of Chicago neighborhoods, is just as tough as your West Side, Rickey.’ ”

In an interview, Mr. Trotter said Mr. Obama had arrived “wanting to change things immediately,” as though he intended “to straighten out all these folks because they’re crooks.” But Mr. Trotter credited Mr. Obama with later “trying to make himself more regular” and “taking himself out of his cocoon, his comfort zone” and “not just pontificating through the press.”

Mr. Hendon, who says he is writing a book on electoral politics called “Backstabbers,” said ethics reform would have passed with or without Mr. Obama because of scandals that preceded it. He said the sponsors of ethics bills tended to be “wealthy kind of people, the same kind of people who vote against pay raises, who don’t need $5,000 a year. Whereas senators like me from poorer communities, we could use that $5,000.”

Mr. Hendon praised Mr. Obama, however, for later winning passage of what some in Springfield called “the driving-while-black bill,” which required the police to collect data on the race of drivers they stopped as a way to monitor racial profiling. Law enforcement groups had repeatedly blocked earlier versions while the Republicans were in control; when the Democrats took over, Mr. Obama brokered a compromise between the police groups and the A.C.L.U.

Mr. Hendon, sponsor of a previous bill, said Mr. Obama had “made some compromises that other members of the black caucus just weren’t willing to bend on” — perhaps, he said, because Senator Obama had never been abused by the police. But he added, “I’m not saying he gave up too much. In hindsight, it was best to go ahead with the weaker version because a lot of police attitudes changed when we passed it.”

Mr. Obama worked hard at building connections. Aside from taking up golf he joined a weekly poker game. One lobbyist said Mr. Obama played poker well, but “with more skill than luck,” adding, “It’s certainly not instinctive with him; it’s cerebral.”

In Springfield, Mr. Obama said, he learned early “that forming relationships a lot of times was more important than having all the policy talking points in your arsenal. That most of the time people at the state level — and in the U.S. Senate — are moved as much by whether or not they trust you and whether or not they think your values are sound as they are by graphs and charts and numbers on a page.”

Many of those relationships have proved helpful since. As Mr. Jones tells it, when Mr. Obama asked him to support his run for the United States Senate, the younger man had already figured out that the Senate president’s early backing could “checkmate” the mayor, the governor and organized labor.

Senator Terry Link, a forklift business owner who golfed and played poker with Mr. Obama, also provided assistance. Chairman of the Lake County Democratic organization, he informed the group that it would be backing the long shot, Mr. Obama, in the Senate primary.

“They all thought I’d lost my marbles,” said Mr. Link. “ ‘You’re nuts! We can’t support him.’ I said, ‘When you know him like I know him, you’ll all support him.’ The largest percentage in the primary came from my county. He carried every precinct.”

Anti-War Rap from Seattle: "Bring 'Em Back Home" (video)

zia999 video (05:19):
Music video for "Back Home," the lead single off of the new Blue Scholars record "BAYANI."

Bill Moyers on "the argument for impeachment"

Poynter Online:
From RICK BYRNE, director of communications, "Bill Moyers Journal": I saw your entry entitled "Getler: Moyers' PBS show on impeachment lacked balance." Please post Bill Moyers' response to the PBS ombudsman, below.

July 24, 2007

Dear Mr. Getler:

I respect your work and your role, but I disagree with you about "balance." The journalist's job is not to achieve some mythical state of equilibrium between two opposing opinions out of some misshapen respect -- sometimes, alas, reverence -- for the prevailing consensus among the powers-that-be. The journalist's job is to seek out and offer the public the best thinking on an issue, event, or story. That's what I did regarding the argument for impeachment.
Official Washington may not want to hear the best arguments for impeachment -- or any at all -- but a lot of America does. More than four out of ten people indicated in that recent national poll that they favor impeaching President Bush and more than five out of ten, Vice President Cheney. They're talking impeachment out there and that dynamic in public opinion is news. There's a movement for impeachment, not one against impeachment, and to fail to explore the arguments driving that movement would be as foolish as when Washington journalists in the months before the invasion of Iraq dared not talk about "occupation" because official sources only wanted to talk about "liberation." Letting the official consensus govern the conversation is also to let it decide the subject.

So to hear the best arguments driving public sentiment, I invited on my broadcast a conservative scholar who reveres the Constitution, Bruce Fein, and a liberal political journalist, John Nichols, who has written a fine book on the historical roots of impeachment. That two men of different philosophies come to the same conclusion on this issue is in itself newsworthy, and they made a valuable contribution to the public dialogue, as confirmed by the roughly 20:1 positive response to the broadcast. Of course I could have aired a Beltway-like "debate" between a Democrat and a Republican, or a conservative and a liberal, but that's usually conventional wisdom and standard practice, and public broadcasting was meant to be an alternative, not an echo. If a debate about impeachment becomes the story, I'll come back with different guests to explore it. Right now it's the argument for impeachment that is shaping public opinion, and that's why I chose to interview two informed thinkers who have arrived at the same destination from very different directions.

A personal note: Pinned to the bulletin board on the wall behind my computer -- I am looking at it now -- is the column you wrote in January calling on public broadcasting to "be more...aggressive," including on the issue of, yes, impeachment. I took encouragement from that column over these months as I tracked grassroots activity and the growing public conversation on the subject across the country. I was cheered by your assertion in the same column that "'on-the-one-hand/on-the-other hand' type of journalism that is much more common can be less than enlightening at times such as these..." In thinking that you imagined public broadcasting as a service, not a sedative, I trust I wasn't misreading your New Year's resolution.

By the way, we did not remove any controversial postings from our Web site, as indicated in your critique. We welcome all points of view and responses to our programs on our blog.


Bill Moyers

"Netroots hot, DLC not"

Ari Berman (The Nation):
Bill Clinton, the former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), will be delivering the keynote address at the organization's annual conference in Nashville this weekend.

But his wife and other '08 Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Barack Obama and John Edwards, will instead be in South Carolina, addressing the College Democrats annual convention.

It's particularly interesting that Hillary is skipping the New Dem conference, given how former Tennessee Congressman and new DLC Chairman Harold Ford Jr. wrote in a January memo that "I assume there will be an effort to help Senator Clinton's campaign and I would support such an effort."

In contrast, all the major '08 Democrats will be attending the YearlyKos convention in August.

Translation: netroots hot, DLC not.

In recent years, as the party has moved left, the DLC has struggled to maintain its relevance and uniqueness. It wants to remain the player it was in the late 80s and 90s, when it battled for the "soul of the party."

So today longtime leader Al From feels snubbed. "They are looking only at the liberal activists in Iowa," he says of the '08 Dems. "They have tunnel vision."

I wonder what Bill thinks about that.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

John Edwards: "They Want To Shut Me Up" (video)

johnedwards, video (01:22):
John Edwards talks about attacks against him and fighting back against special interests in Creston, Iowa on July 26, 2007.
H/t to Ben Smith.


H/t to Horsesass.org:
Video (02:29).

"Defining Moment?"

E.J. Dionne (WaPo):
CHICAGO -- A dozen or so young staffers were gathered around a bank of television sets at Barack Obama's vast campaign headquarters here on Michigan Avenue. They were cheering on Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) as he took their candidate's side in the great Obama- Hillary Clinton debate over how presidents should negotiate with unfriendly dictators.

The mood was upbeat not only because the Obama loyalists judged Smith the winner in his Wednesday clash with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on MSNBC's "Hardball," but also because Obama had pulled the front-runner into a direct confrontation over foreign policy.

Obama's own confidence was clear yesterday morning during a conference call announcing that he had won the endorsement of Rep. Paul Hodes, a freshman Democrat from New Hampshire.

Politicians often underscore their own virtues by discovering the same traits in others, and Obama is no exception. He praised Hodes, an upset winner in the 2006 elections, as "a fresh new voice" who "spoke the truth" and "believed he could be an agent of change." Hodes, right on message, explained his support for Obama as an effort to "complete my mission" in politics, which is -- you guessed it -- "to make some change."

And in response to questions, Obama continued to fire away at Clinton, saying her stand on negotiations with dictators was a continuation of "Bush administration policy." In the Democratic contest, those are fighting words.

The Obama-Clinton confrontation might easily be written off as midsummer meaninglessness. It was set off during Monday's CNN-YouTube debate, when the candidates were asked whether they would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration . . . with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries."

Without hesitation, Obama replied: "I would." He dismissed as "ridiculous" the "notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them."

Clinton sensed an opening. "I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year," she said, adding, "I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes."

Figuring she had the high ground, Clinton continued on the attack Tuesday, calling Obama's position "irresponsible and frankly naive." Instead of backing off, Obama fired back. On Wednesday, he hit Clinton on one of her weak points -- her 2002 vote to give President Bush authority to go to war in Iraq. "I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out,' " Obama said. As some of us who watched "Batman" on TV remember: Kapow!

In fact, Obama clearly sensed his own vulnerability and quickly tried to cauterize it. He was careful to say repeatedly that in talking with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Muslim leaders, he would send them "a strong message that Israel is our friend."

He also pulled back ever so slightly, insisting that "the notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous."

But the eagerness with which Obama's camp kept the battle going reflected a cardinal rule in politics: Front-runners should be wary of picking fights with challengers. In this case, Clinton allowed Obama to make one of her prime vulnerabilities, the Iraq vote, a central part of the campaign dialogue. She also let Obama place himself to her dovish side.

In a Democratic primary, that's not where she wants Obama to be. It was Obama's good fortune that as the controversy was building, Iowa Democrats were receiving a campaign mailing headlined: "Barack Obama said No to the war in Iraq from the start."

The most intriguing aspect of this controversy is that both campaigns were operating from their respective positions of strength. Clinton has successfully cast herself as the toughest candidate of the Democratic bunch and has Washington experience that Obama can't match. Obama, precisely because he exudes newness in so many ways, promises the most obvious break with the past.

If Obama wins the nomination, Republicans will try to make him pay a price for his negotiation-friendly attitude.

But this week, at least, Clinton started a battle about experience and Obama turned it into a debate about change.

This dynamic, over a stray comment in a single debate, could be remembered as the moment that defined the Democratic presidential contest. Clinton faces trouble if she allows Obama a monopoly on the future.

"Edwards tells Clinton and Obama to stop fight"

AP (Bothell Times):
DOVER, N.H. — Presidential hopeful John Edwards said the dispute between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama is completely wrong for the Democratic Party.
"The last thing we need is two presidential candidates fighting with each other, instead of fighting for the change we need in America," Edwards said. "And, man, do we need change in the worst possible way."

Since last week's debate in South Carolina, Clinton and Obama have been arguing about how far each would go, as president, to meet with leaders of hostile nations such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

An Obama spokeswoman disputed Edwards' comments.

"This is a substantive and important debate people want to hear about, whether we are going to turn the page on the Bush-Cheney foreign policy, which has damaged our national security and America's standing in the world," Leslie Miller said.

Edwards also responded to criticism Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have thrown at him for proposing an increase in capital-gains taxes.

"What I say to Romney and Giuliani is all that money that they're making from their investments ... I want them to pay their fair share of taxes on those investments," Edwards said.

A Romney spokesman said Edwards missed the point.

"While we'd all like to be able to join Mr. Edwards and laugh off $400 haircuts, Mitt Romney believes that working families should be able to keep more of their money," Craig Stevens said.

Obama Banner Ads: "One Candidate..."

First Read (NBC):
From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Clinton is not the only one trying to capitalize on the controversy. The Obama campaign has bought flashy Web banner ads in Iowa and New Hampshire with the message:

--One candidate had the judgment to oppose the war from the start.
--One candidate knows it's irresponsible to send troops to war without a plan to bring them home.
--One candidate believes it's naïve to believe we can resolve conflicts without talking to our adversaries.
--Ready for a new direction?"

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Clinton-Obama rhetoric getting hotter"

The week-long battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took a nasty turn Thursday when Clinton mocked Obama's "Politics of Hope" speech, suggesting his call for altruistic politics in 2004 is now an empty political slogan.
The fight began during Monday night's YouTube-CNN debate, when Obama said he'd negotiate with foreign despots unconditionally during his first year in office; Clinton said she wouldn't -- to deprive enemies of a "propaganda" coup.

Seizing a chance to portray the first-term Illinois senator as a foreign-policy rookie, Clinton called his position "naive" and "irresponsible." Obama used the same language to describe her support for the 2002 Iraq invasion, and the fight was on.

"I'm not afraid to lose the PR war to dictators," said Obama, keeping the fight alive Thursday during a speech in Concord, N.H. "I'm happy to look them in the eyes and say what needs to be said. ... I don't want Bush-Cheney Lite."

In a later conference call, Obama explained, "Part of the Bush doctrine has been to say 'no' [to negotiating with foreign leaders]. You'll have to ask Senator Clinton what differentiates her position from theirs."

Clinton, on CNN, upped the ante by taking a shot at Obama's reputation-making 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, in which he urged voters to reject cynicism and embrace the "Politics of Hope."

"I've been called a lot of things in my life, but I've never been called George Bush or Dick Cheney, certainly," she said. "We have to ask what's ever happened to the politics of hope?"

After months of smiling with pained sincerity across debate podiums, Clinton and Obama have set upon each other with stunning vehemence since the YouTube debate, exposing a reservoir of mutual disdain. Yesterday, Clinton hinted that the era of good feelings isn't likely to return anytime soon.

"I think that we do have some disagreements, and those are obviously going to start coming out because this is a very intense period, for the primaries," she told CNN's John King. "I welcome that debate."

The fight has advantages for each candidate. Clinton, who has been embarrassed by Obama's fundraising superiority, is going for the jugular on experience. Obama, who trails Clinton by 15 points, needs to demonstrate their differences and must quell murmuring among supporters that he's been too civil.

The one scintilla of civility in evidence yesterday came from an unusual quarter. Defense Secretary Robert Gates apologized to Clinton after a Pentagon subordinate accused her of requesting deployment information he said would endanger U.S. troops.
Howie P.S.: I said I would be offline until Sunday, but the campground was full and we had to get a room in town. There's a free computer in the lobby, so I took this as a sign from "The Higher Power" to stay "engaged," as Michelle Obama requested.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Purple America"

Bob Moser (The Nation):
What on God's green earth has gotten into the Wilkes County Democrats? Here it is, the first pretty April Saturday of a snowy, blowy spring. There's yards to mow, balls to toss, plants to plant, Blue Ridge Mountains to hike--all of which you'd think would be mighty tempting on Democratic convention day in a place where Republicans have a damn near two-to-one edge.
"Welcome to red-hot Republican territory," says Dick Sloop, a career-military retiree turned antiwar protester who's the new county Democratic chair. "We've been like the homeless around here: silent and invisible. The best we ever did in my lifetime, we had two Democrats once on a five-seat county commission." Even here in western North Carolina, where Republicans have proliferated since the Civil War (when the woods were full of Union sympathizers rather than pro-lifers), Wilkes County--Bible-thumping, economically slumping--has stood out for its fire-and-brimstone conservatism. It's been a stiff challenge to find folks willing to run against the Republicans. Hell, it's been rare to hear anybody publicly admit to being a Democrat. "You've got a lot of people in this county who probably couldn't tell you if they've ever met one," Sloop says.

But in a scene playing out this year all across "red America," from these lush hills to the craggy outcroppings of the Mountain West, previously unfathomable crowds of Democrats are streaming up the steps of the old county courthouse, past bobbing blue balloons and Welcome Democrats! signs. They're hopping mad about the national state of things but simultaneously giddy with a new-found hope--finally!--for their party.

Inside, as the courtroom fills up, three symbols of the new spirit bustle around. There's trim old Clyde Ingle, a onetime Hubert Humphrey campaigner who "finally just got tired of sitting up there in Deep Gap and complaining." Ingle and his wife, Eva, have spent the past couple of years cajoling shy Wilkes County Democrats to "come out of the closet," get organized and active. Then there's Mark Hufford, a young, towheaded bundle of energy who's been helping Democrats win breakthrough elections as a field organizer. And there's white-haired, wisecracking "Uncle Bob" Johnston, who retired to Wilkes from upstate New York and promptly found himself being talked into the party chairmanship. "You've got to be in trouble when you're asking an 80-year-old Yankee to run things," he quips.

Suddenly, though, things actually are running, as Johnston notes after the meeting commences. "The county has twenty-two precincts," he informs the folks. "And I'm proud to announce that every one of them is organized as of just the other day." It might sound dull as dirt, but this is the kind of meticulous organizing--and pride taken in it--that has long been key to GOP dominance in places like Wilkes. The fifty-state strategy kicked off in 2005 by that other Yankee, DNC chair Howard Dean, has begun to level the playing field by putting field organizers, media directors and fundraisers into both "red" and "blue" states to stimulate grassroots organizing and year-round party-building.

Of course, it's not the national strategy alone that's bringing record numbers out to county conventions, precinct parties and Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. The main event this morning is going to be a heaping helping of the other ingredients in the Democratic resurrection across so-called red America--fury and frustration.

"Good morning everyone!" comes the booming drawl of Seth Chapman, the longtime clerk of court in neighboring Alexander County who's pondering a 2008 challenge to the archconservative Republican Congresswoman from these parts, Virginia Foxx. "Isn't this something--in Wilkes County of all places! I'll tell you what, I've been over here before when there was maybe six of us. This is great. How on fire the Democratic Party must be in Wilkes County--and rightfully so. You have suffered for centuries!"

Amen! shout several voices as Chapman, a plain-looking, middle-aged fellow in a dark suit ideal for funerals, serves up a couple of laugh lines, surveys the crowd with a gimlet eye and then, rather than work himself up to it, begins to flat-out holler into the superfluous microphone. "This hard work that we've got going on here, and the only thing the opposition is working for is their own sorry hides! Staying in there with the rats, looking out for nobody but their own selves and their own political agenda. And I for one am about fed up with it!"

Mmmm! a woman's voice rises from the second row. Tell it!

"Heard all the rhetoric. Heard everything they said they was going to do. What have they done? Bankrupted this country. Got us into a war needlessly! And doing nothing but telling us everything's all right. I'm going to go into a little more detail about that."

As he does, it becomes clear that Chapman, like speakers in many a county courthouse these days, is aiming not only to light a fire under the long-discouraged Democrats but also to pick apart the Republican messages that have proven so irresistible to folks, Democrats included, in places like Wilkes. "Of course, we know why Republicans oppose taxes: They want all the tax breaks. Let the rich man go, let the poor man pay: That's their philosophy, as it has been and always will be!"


Chapman pauses to shuffle his notes dramatically, Baptist preacher-style, then brandishes a copy of resolutions passed at the GOP's recent district convention. "Do you believe their resolution says, Listen to the people of their district, not special-interest groups? Republicans talking about cleaning up governmental corruption is just like saying that Lucifer will suddenly become the angel of light again!"

You know that's right!

It seems impossible, but Chapman is getting louder now, jowls swinging, sweat beading, as folks alternately "mmm!" and "amen" and whoop out loud. "You ought to be tiiiiiired of what's going on in government! It's a shame, and it's a sham. This is the party of what's right, they tell you. The party of God, they tell you. The party of moral values, they tell you. And if they can't play the God card, they'll play the military card. Now, I pray daily--and I beg you to--for our troops and what they're trying to accomplish over there with this needless, reckless war that's going on. I pray daily that God will hasten the day--"


"--that they can return home and know war no more!" That gets a standing O.

"We're fighting a war" right here at home, Chapman declares. "Let's see... what should we call it? A war against radical Republicanism!" And from there, as he swells toward one final crescendo, the Wilkes Democrats having gotten pretty red-faced and sweaty themselves.

"The day of Republican smoke-screening and hiding under the outward righteousness of pharisaical Rome is ov-ahhhhh! America has seen, America has witnessed, your party's lip service to values, and we're tired of it. We will tolerate it no more! The Republican Party has no more claim on values and principles and especially God than those crazy jihadists over there! Your party's reign of terror values is ov-ahhhhh!"

Whew! Back in the long-gone days when Chapman's style of Democratic preachment was a popular form of entertainment in the South, the folks would have started filtering away after "the speaking." But nowadays the real work starts after the officers are elected, after the barbecue lunch is wolfed down. Ingle has organized a "practice canvass," in which novices will peel out across local neighborhoods, each accompanied by an experienced canvasser, to knock on the doors of fellow party members, urge them to get off their couches and put their own frustrations to work. "Practice, practice, practice," Ingle tells the folks. "That's what 2007 is all about. In ten months, we are gonna be something. We're going to take back the halls of Congress and City Hall." Farfetched as it sounds, it wouldn't be any more so than the red-to-blue turnaround that's happened just up the road in three formerly Republican counties. Not, that is, unless the Washington Democrats revert to their old form and find a way to douse the flames.

The single oddest thing about the fifty-state strategy is surely the adjective often attached to it: "controversial."

Just how, exactly, could there be controversy over a national political party organizing nationally--especially after years of pissing billions into an ever-shrinking "target" slice of the country, ceding wider and wider chunks of territory and disdaining the grassroots while Republicans built a powerful army of ground troops? The DNC's fifty-state project is relatively inexpensive, compared with the costs of the thirty-second TV ad blitzes the party has increasingly relied on to target voters in Ohio and Florida. Salaries for the state parties run to about $8 million annually, considerably less than 10 percent of the DNC's budget and downright humble compared with what the GOP and its affiliates spend for similar party work.

In just two years, the belated catch-up effort has paid off in at least two tangible ways: It has exponentially multiplied grassroots party involvement and--in a short-term benefit not even envisioned by its architects--has helped win an impressive number of state, local and Congressional elections in majority-Republican regions. That's not to mention the intangible benefits of fanning out 180 Democratic organizers, fundraisers and communications specialists across the map, many of them working in places like western North Carolina, where, as one local activist puts it, "a lot of Democrats think of the national party as the devil itself." As the chair of the most overwhelmingly Republican of states, Utah's Wayne Holland, wrote last year, "Democrats have become outsiders who do things to us, not insiders who do things for us. The fifty-state strategy is one way to turn it around."

It is, in short, one of the brightest ideas the DNC has had in its undistinguished history. And the timing could not have been better: The organizing is providing a channel for the disgust inspired by the mounting catastrophes of the Bush years. In deep-red states like Utah, it's ticked up the number of Democrats voting and candidates running (30 percent more in 2006). In "purple" states like North Carolina, where Democrats dominate most local and statewide elections, it's helping to turn red counties purple and purple counties blue, uncorking a new strain of progressive populism--the kind that won Senate races in Virginia for Jim Webb, Montana for Jon Tester and Ohio for Sherrod Brown.

And it might not outlive the next presidential election.

Why? For starters, look no further than the other modifier often attached to the effort: "Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy." From the moment the former Vermont governor launched his campaign for DNC chair in the wake of the Democrats' 2004 debacle, the party establishment--that shadowy claque of high-paid consultants, big-money donors, lobbyists, pundits, Clintonites and Congressional leaders--has been at pains to paint Dean's vision as another manifestation of the out-of-control tendencies they fretted about, and whispered so gainfully to the media about, when he ran for President.

Dean's campaign for party chair was an outsider's run at the ultimate insider's job, spurred by a meeting he had at the 2004 national convention with disgruntled party leaders from eighteen long-neglected "red" states. In his own 2004 run, Dean had "found himself in the odd position of a candidate in charge of a movement that grew up almost accidentally around him," says Elaine Kamarck, a Harvard public-policy lecturer and highly unlikely "Deaniac" best known for encouraging the party's break with New Deal liberalism as a Democratic Leadership Council strategist. "That gave him the insights that led to the fifty-state strategy."

Dean had also studied the national rise of Republicanism, when the GOP built from the ground up in Southern and Western states that had long been tough terrain for them. "The Republicans sat down thirty years ago and figured out how to do this," Dean says. "Through disciplined organization they were able to take over the country." He spotted another kink in the Democratic works, says strategist Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager. "Republicans start the campaign the day after an election, win or lose. They don't wait to have a nominee before they start putting together a battle plan," she says. "Same on down the line, state and local. Democrats have started the day the nominee is selected, which is just bass-ackwards. We haven't had a party; we've had candidates and campaigns." That's one reason, Dean believes, Democrats haven't projected a strong national image, while GOP themes of low taxes and high morals have resonated loud and clear. "It's been a problem that presidential campaigns are where our themes are developed," he says. "Presidential campaigns are risk-averse by their nature, and it's not the best place to be developing your message and thinking big picture about where your party stands."

Dean's analysis ran contrary to the entrenched interests of those who had long run the DNC, Matt Bai wrote last year in The New York Times Magazine, as "essentially a service organization for a few hundred wealthy donors, who treated it like their private political club." Also being served at this "club" were Congressional leaders who had risen with help from the old DNC. And then there were the big-ticket consultants, the James Carvilles and Paul Begalas, who had shot to fortune and fame with their image-driven, big-media Bill Clinton campaigns, their pricey polling data and "strategic targeting."

"If you make your living buying and making TV ads, then you're not really very wild about a change in technology that says, Let's hire organizers," says Kamarck. "The whole political-consultant industry has been built on ads. But with cable TV and the diffusion of media, what the hell good is an ad? The fifty-state strategy takes a generation of consultants and kind of says, Let's put you out to pasture."

Despite insiders' desperate efforts to stop him, Dean cruised to victory, with overwhelming support from the "red" South and interior West. The club was integrated. And sure enough, the strangest things started happening.

Dean set out to make good on his promises, dispatching assessment teams to meet with leaders of every state party. First was North Carolina, where 34-year-old progressive Jerry Meek, the newly elected chair, was pleasantly flabbergasted by the DNC team's attitude. "They came down here and said, basically, What do you need? What is it that we can do to help build the state party in North Carolina?"

These were jaw-dropping questions. As Dean says, "Washington's idea of accountability is that you ask people in the states to jump and they'll ask, How high?" Meek recovered quickly enough to ask the DNC to pay the salaries of three regional organizers he was already planning to bring on board. The DNC complied. And they weren't sent down from Washington; state parties make their own hires, on Dean's wild theory that "the closer you can get to neighbors talking to neighbors, the better you can reach people with the Democratic message in a way they'll understand."

North Carolina's first hire, Mark Hufford, knew the turf. He also knew that Democrats in a few of these mountain counties had already begun to dig themselves out of the doldrums--particularly in Watauga County, where a band of progressives had taken over the party apparatus in the 1990s and, despite a sizable Republican majority among registered voters, slowly built toward dominance in local elections. The Watauga organizers were soon being deployed to help Hufford train and inspire other county leaders on recruiting good candidates, motivating volunteers and getting out votes. Last fall, as Watauga County chair Diane Tilson happily recalls, "We were the first county in the nation to do a countywide canvass. Yes we were! It was freezing cold, but we did it."

Often, even when hard-core Republicans answer their doors, they turn out to have issues on their mind that run right up the Democratic alley. "There's so many people that really don't realize the relationship between elections and whether or not they're going to be able to get their drugs," Tilson says, "or how expensive gas is." While new canvassers often brace themselves for a barrage of questions about abortion and gay marriage, that's not foremost on most folks' minds. "They're thinking about whether they'll have heat this winter," she says. "How they're going to get themselves to the grocery store and work."

In November, Democrats swept every race in Watauga. They won big down the road in Ashe County, another Republican stronghold with a newly energized grassroots. Eight-term GOP Congressman Charles Taylor was dethroned by Heath Shuler, a social conservative, but one with a feisty prolabor and environmental bent. And the Democrats came within one win of a clean sweep in "red" Polk County. In a blog on the statewide progressive website, BlueNC, Polk chair Margaret Johnson chalks it up not only to better organizing but to "walking the talk about what it means to be a Democrat." Where grassroots Republicans often rally around religious issues, the Polk and Watauga Democrats have turned themselves into quasi-civic groups year-round, organizing roadside cleanups, planting gardens, helping the needy, putting on fundraising walks to benefit the environment. "Even Republicans come up to me," says Johnson, "and say, I may not agree with your politics, but I sure like what you're doing."

While the fifty-state strategy was fueling the brush fire across western North Carolina and other unlikely parts of red-state America in 2006, the Washington club was fit to be tied. With George W. Bush plunging toward record-low approval ratings, the polls were showing that Democrats had a real shot at winning back Congress--and what was their party chair doing? Stubbornly refusing to scale back his fifty-state priorities and open the DNC's ATM to the Democratic campaign committees! So what if the Senate and Congressional campaign outfits were raking in unprecedented money, some of it from the big donors who used to open their wallets for the DNC? There were ads to buy, targets to target, consultants to consult!

Clearly, this state of affairs cried out for some well-placed media smears and strong-arm tactics. In March 2006 House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader-to-be Harry Reid met with the miscreant from Vermont and, according to the Washington Post, "complained about Dean's priorities." To little avail. In May DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel and DSCC honcho Chuck Schumer had a similar contretemps with Dean, ending with Emanuel reportedly storming out with "a trail of expletives." And on CNN, Clinton consultant and longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala tartly mouthed the insiders' consensus. "He says it's a long-term strategy. But what he has spent it on, apparently, is just hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose."

While Dean and Schumer came to a truce, others continued to fume--even after the Democrats won back Congress, not to mention several red-state legislatures, in November. Before the victory celebrations had wound down, Carville renewed fire on the DNC, telling a group of reporters that Dean had cost the party an additional twenty House seats with "leadership...Rumsfeldian in its competence." But former DNC chair Don Fowler of South Carolina, whose son Donnie had run against Dean for party chair, was among a chorus of power hitters who eventually shouted down what he called Carville's "nonsense."

Not a harsh word has been heard, at least publicly, from Dean's detractors since the Carville brouhaha. That's thanks not only to the intervention of saner voices but also to a study of the fifty-state strategy's impact on the 2006 midterm results by Elaine Kamarck. While the project had not been designed to win elections in the short run, Kamarck found that it had done just that, "increasing the Democratic vote share beyond the bounce of a national tide favoring Democrats." Comparing Democratic results in '06 with those of the '02 midterms, she found that the average Democratic vote went up by nearly 5 percent in 2006. But in the thirty-five Congressional districts where fifty-state staffers had worked on the campaigns, Democratic votes had soared by an average of nearly 10 percent.

"Nothing like a little straight analysis to cut through the bullshit, huh?" Kamarck says. "This came out in January and quickly got distributed. I kept running into the big-money guys and they had all read it. It was funny to see how quickly this went through the political fundraising community. They're desperate for something that is hard data as opposed to the nonstop sales pitches they get. And you never heard a peep after that from Carville."

But these are Washington Democrats we're talking about; the story couldn't possibly end as tidily as this. It's far from certain what fate the fifty-state effort will meet when Dean's tenure ends in early 2009. He has insisted he doesn't want another four years--and even if he did, he'd likely be out of luck no matter how the presidential election pans out. If the Democrats lose, Dean will surely catch much of the blame. And if there's a Democrat in the White House, tradition dictates that the President nominates--and effectively selects--the chair. But Jay Parmley, a former Oklahoma state chair and roving DNC organizer in the South, is guardedly optimistic. "A lot of people are fretting, Oh, my gosh, when Howard leaves what's gonna happen?" he says. "I'm not worried about it going away after what we saw in 2006. Whoever wins the White House is going to have to say, Well, this fifty-state strategy helped get me there, and so we're not going to monkey with it too much.

"Doesn't mean they won't, of course."

The real fear is that a second Clinton presidency would mean a return to the Washington-centric ways of the first--to party control by "the very people who ground down the activist base in the 1990s and have continued to hold the party's grassroots in utter contempt," as Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos wrote in the Washington Post. The harshest public critics of Dean's strategy are also among Hillary Clinton's most trusted advisers: Emanuel, Carville, Begala. As Thomas Edsall reported in The New Republic last year, many top Clintonites so loathe and mistrust Dean that their campaign is "laying the groundwork to circumvent the DNC." There is talk of Clinton's team keeping its own field staff with the campaign after winning the primaries, rather than shifting them under the auspices of the DNC for the general election, as has been standard practice. "The DNC is going to be peripheral" if Hillary wins the nomination, one Clinton aide said. Clinton acolyte Harold Ickes Jr. has raised millions for a private voter database, to avoid relying on the DNC's.

But Kamarck believes the Clinton campaign, if Hillary is nominated, would make peace with Dean's DNC for one reason: He's transformed it from the Democrats' perennial problem into one of their biggest assets. "What you typically see is that as soon as a Democratic nominee is chosen, they send some senior eminence down to the DNC," Kamarck says. "The first thing this senior eminence does is complain about what a mess the party is. Because it always was. This time, the presidential candidate is going to come in and be wowed by what they see." And that, in turn, may give Dean leverage to keep organizers in the field throughout 2008, rather than devoting the entire apparatus to the presidential campaign--also the old norm.

"He's earned a seat at the table," says Donna Brazile. "Can't nobody pull his tablecloth and take his knife and fork at this point."

Besides, says Brazile, Democrats have a historic opportunity to start building a lasting national majority by winning back more of the voters--in places like Wilkes County, for one--they started to lose four decades ago. "White swing voters in the South and West are now much more open to independent-minded and liberal Democrats," she says. "They're disgusted with the Republicans. This is the moment to bring them back. Why pull the rug out from them? Why leave that terrain to the Republicans all over again?"

"Howard Dean facing formidable problems"


It won't be a summer of love for Howard Dean, with peace and understanding in short supply.
The Democratic National Committee chairman faces several formidable challenges. Some states are determined to move up the dates of their presidential primaries despite the potential for upending the nomination process, and the party's convention in Denver in 2008 is already dealing with nettlesome labor and financial woes.

Dean's biggest test will come next year when the DNC will primarily serve as a shadow campaign operation for the party's presidential nominee.

But first he must contend with Florida, whose decision to push its primary to Jan. 29 could set off a ripple effect among other states eager to move up as well. The party's rules and bylaws committee is expected to turn a thumbs down on Florida's plan at a meeting in Washington on Aug. 25, but that's not expected to stop Democrats in the state from observing the new primary date.

With the first nominating contests just six months away, the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates are frustrated with the uncertainty. It has inhibited their ability to craft a strategy for winning the nomination in what already promises to be an unprecedented race because of the plethora of early contests, record-breaking fundraising and an unusually crowded field.

Critics contend that a stronger chairman might have persuaded Florida Democrats to abide by party rules not to jump ahead of Feb. 5 and refuse to participate in the January primary, which was championed by the state's Republican governor and legislature. Others say Dean did what he could to fight the change, including lobbying Democratic legislators. Ultimately, they said there was little he could do to alter the outcome.

"When it came down to it, our state executive committee said there was zero support for holding anything other than a January 29 primary," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bobriski said. "It was a force of nature here — they didn't want to see Democratic voters disenfranchised."

For his part, former DNC chairman Don Fowler said states have been poised to upend the primary calendar for years and it was just a matter of time before they succeeded. Regrettably for Dean, it happened on his watch.

"He couldn't have done anything to make this go away — no national chairman can," Fowler said. "The folks in the states would just say, 'Go back to Washington and mind your own business.'"

Then there is Denver, which will host the party's convention next year — a selection Dean himself has called risky.

The choice has indeed been problematic, mostly because of fundraising challenges and the city's fractious relationship with organized labor, a key Democratic Party constituency.

Last month, the convention host committee announced it will fall well short of meeting its quarterly fundraising goal. And this spring, the AFL-CIO threatened to force Democrats to abandon Denver after Colorado's Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed a bill making it easier to set up all-union workplaces.

Dean declined to be interviewed for this story. His aides note that many of the problems he faces have befallen other party chairmen and that Republicans are coping with similar ones, including a potentially chaotic primary calendar and fundraising for their 2008 convention.

The difference this time, Dean aides argue, is that the Democratic Party will be better prepared for the general election than ever before.

"Governor Dean's legacy will be to ensure that our nominee will have a strong infrastructure to win the presidency and to truly be a national party," spokeswoman Karen Finney said.

Underscoring all of this is Dean's vision for how the party should operate — a vision that has met with resistance from many Democratic leaders.

The former Vermont governor is widely popular with state parties and many grass-roots Democrats, who helped fuel his insurgent 2004 presidential candidacy. But he's still viewed skeptically by much of the Washington-based political establishment, which challenges him both privately and publicly.

Some of Dean's most vocal detractors are former advisers to President Clinton, potentially complicating matters between the DNC and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's presidential front-runner. They include strategist James Carville, who once called Dean's leadership at the DNC "almost Rumsfeldian in its incompetence."

Dean's focus has been on strengthening state parties, irking those who believe the DNC's chief function is to help fund competitive races. The disagreement broke into open warfare in 2006, when Dean clashed over money and strategy with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who ran the party's successful effort to win back control of Congress.

Dean's so-called "50-state strategy," which has sent paid organizers in state parties across the country — including heavily Republican stalwarts like Mississippi and Indiana — has been mocked by some as naive and ineffective. And his effort to create a national voter database within the DNC has been challenged by operatives, including Hillary Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, who have created a for-profit company building a competing voter file.

Nationally, the DNC's fundraising trails that of its GOP counterpart, even as the Democrats' House and Senate campaign arms have flourished. The DNC has pulled in about $28 million so far this year, compared to more than $46 million for the Republican National Committee.

Still, to Dean's fans — and there are legions of them — the former Vermont governor has taken a much-needed sledgehammer to a calcified Democratic establishment.

"Among DNC members, there's just wild enthusiasm for Howard," said Elaine Kamarck, a former Democratic strategist and professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "The people he's upsetting are the Washington-based political class, who make a lot of money making television ads."

Earlier this year, Kamarck produced an analysis testing whether Dean's 50-state strategy had helped Democrats win closely contested House seats last year. She concluded that in districts where the DNC had placed operatives, Democratic voter turnout went up measurably beyond the "bounce" Democrats were getting nationally.

Dean hired three new staffers for the Indiana party, for example, including field organizers in two congressional districts that changed hands from Republican to Democrat in 2006.

"We've never received the kind of attention and investment from the DNC as we have since Howard Dean became chair," said Dan Parker, the Indiana Democratic Party chairman. "Before, the DNC only cared about states important for presidential races. Indiana is a very red state, so they ignored us."