Saturday, November 10, 2007

"IA: Skulking The Big Dogs Pre-JJ Dinner"

Beverly Davis (Huffington Post):
Des Moines, Iowa -- It's early in the evening the night before the Iowa Democratic Party holds their annual Jefferson Jackson Day fundraiser, but already the nation's top political reporters are on the prowl in downtown Des Moines, dining and drinking the political Kool-Aid of the 2008 cycle, with the campaign big dogs that pull the strings behind the curtain.
Your HuffPost's OffTheBus reporter was there, too. I mean, what else is there to do the day before a major political event, where we will see all the candidates sharing the same stage and trying to woo the most privileged voters in America one more time?

First sighting of the night came when David Yepsen, the Chief Political Reporter for the Des Moines Register, walked out the door of The Continental, a chic little restaurant in the "East Village" section of town, with David Axelrod, the mastermind behind the Obama campaign. They
were both laughing with faces flushed after a bit of vino, no doubt.

It's hard to score a table in a mid-size town bulging with over 250 journalists and even more campaign staffers flown in for this mega political event, but my party, which included a few old friends and Geoff Elliott, Washington correspondent for The Australian, Austria's national
daily newspaper, slid into a table at Azalea's, one of the hottest new restaurants in the downtown Hotel Kirkwood.

Walking through the tightly packed high-ceiled eatery, your reporter spied Dan Balz, Chief Political Reporter for the Washington Post and the Politico's Roger Simon munching and chatting away with Teresa Vilmain, Hillary Clinton's Iowa Campaign Manager.

I popped by to say hello to Dan, and Teresa jumped out of her seat to remind me that the campaign is hosting an after-JJ event at the Des Moines Science Center at 9:30 P.M.

"I'll be there!"

Teresa is a firecracker and quite possibly the best campaign manager in the state.

She made a quick swoop of the room, introducing me to her younger brother and her older brother, Steve, a restaurateur whom I've known for a hundred years but haven't seen in the last fifteen.

Steve still has the cool ponytail thing happening and he reminded me to call a friend of his - and mine - John Campbell, a Steel Workers Union official, who is now backing former Senator John Edwards.

It doesn't really matter what you do for a living in Iowa. Almost everyone here plays politics and they're serious about it.

As Senator Joe Biden told me last Monday in Ames, Iowa, during our interview (while Adam Nagourney of the New York Times and his boss, Executive Editor Bill Keller, waited out in the hallway for their one-on-one interview with Biden) "Any mid-size state could hold an early
primary, but Iowans are smart, informed and care about the process of choosing the next president." he was pandering a little but he wasn't wrong by much.

During our dinner, Elliot entertained us with his recent trip on Air Force One that took a secret unscheduled stop in Iraq and then onto his home country (What kind of toilet paper does the president wipe his tush with? It's the generic brand. No presidential seal.).

All of a sudden there was a rush of excitement from the bar because National Co-Chair for the Clinton campaign, Terry McAuliffe swaggered in for a glass of red wine.

Elliot and I stalked him for a few minutes, asked how the campaign was going and McAuliffe said, "It's going great. Exactly where we want to be."

Elliot nudged him about the bad press Hillary received last week after her poor debate performance and McAuliffe said, "We're not worried about it. We're in a strong position here in Iowa."

And while that's true, it's just as true that Iowa remains a tight three-way race shared by Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. It's anyone's guess who will win the top ticket out of the Iowa caucuses scheduled for January 3.

Shortly thereafter, Edwards was being booed at the John Mellencamp concert held just up the street at the Wells Fargo Arena, an uglier building you would never want to see and it wasn't all that pleasant for Edwards, either.

We left McAuliffe basking in his cheerful vanity with oodles of pretty, smart pol's - both male and female - and skulked off to yet another scene, Dios Rios, owned by one of the most active Democrats in Des Moines, Harry Bookey and his wife, Pam, whose daughter, Natalie works for the Obama Finance Committee.

We shared a few Mojitto's with Juliana Smoot, Obama's National Finance Director and Deputy Finance Director, Ami Copeland, along with a dozen of their cohorts from around the country. Elliot was keen to meet this group of brash upstarts who have made political history with their fundraising strategy.

Jim Farrell, Richardson's Deputy State Director, joined the ever expanding group as did a few of the Clinton staffers. These kids all know each other. Many have worked together at the DSCC - Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington - along with a host of other campaigns, so it's not like they were gnashing their teeth at one another.

"In the end, we're all on the same ticket," said one fresh faced kid from Boston.

Farrell told me, "I'm convinced Bill Richardson will win the caucus."

"Yeah, OK. But what about his gratuitous 'don't pick on Hillary' line during the last debate?"

"Oh, we're getting positive responses from Iowans who liked Bill coming to Hillary's defense," says Farrell.

It was past midnight when we finally tore ourselves away from the ever spinning young pols working day and night for their god-candidates.

It's a big day tomorrow and one of the Obama kids yelled out, "Don't forget the post-JJ event at the Hotel Fort Des Moines! It starts at 9:30 P.M."

So far, only Clinton and Obama are hosting post-JJ events, which could be a clue to how the caucus line-up might end on January 3.

McAuliffe will be headlining the Iowans for Hillary Jefferson-Jackson Day celebration at the Science Center tonight at 10:30 P.M.

However, all of the candidates - Senators Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and Governor Bill Richardson are hosting events before the annual state Democratic fundraiser that is expected to draw a record crowd of 9,000 hardcore Dems. Nancy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will serve as Master of Ceremonies.

But the real story is always the before and after the JJ dinner events when unscientific results can be analyzed: How many reporters and supporters attended the various candidate events that are scheduled:

Senator Joe Biden is holding a rally at 6:15 P.M. serving barbecue and Biden stump speechifying before the JJ Dinner across the street.

Senator Chris Dodd will be joined by the Fire Fighter's at their reception at 4:30 P.M., just a block away from the Veterans Auditorium, where the JJ Dinner is being held.

Senator John Edwards will hold a musical rally with Dr. Ralph Stanley at the Polk County Convention Complex, 2 blocks from Vets Auditorium at 5:30P.M.

Governor Bill Richardson is holding a rally at 4 P.M. at the Quality Inn, only one block away from Vets Auditorium, where Bobby Unser Sr. and Al Unser Sr. will be stumping for the governor.

Senator Barack Obama is holding a 3 p.m. rally with musician John Legend at the Hy-Vee Hall, which is attached to Vet's Auditorium.

Former Senator Mike Gravel and Congressman Dennis Kucinich were not invited to speak at the JJ dinner because their poll numbers don't show they are viable candidates and with only six weeks left before their caucus, the state party is culling the field.
Howie P.S.:
Definition--skulk (present participle skulk·ing):

1. move furtively: to move about in a furtive way

2. hide somewhere: to hide, especially in order to do something sinister

3. U.K. shirk: to avoid work or responsibilities

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