Sunday, August 31, 2008

Raining on their Parade

History is full of examples of events intruding on the best laid political plans. Abraham Lincoln's reelection was doubtful until General Sherman captured Atlanta in September, 1864. Jimmy Carter's reelection crashed with the helicopters that were dispatched to rescue the U.S. citizens held hostage in Iran. The fortunes of George W. Bush foundered in the rising waters that Hurricane Katrina brought to New Orleans in 2005.
Now, as the New York Times reports, the Republican Party is being forced to cut back sharply on its convention schedule this week due to the impending landfall of Hurricane Gustav:
Senator John McCain called a halt on Sunday afternoon to all but the most essential activities for the Republican National Convention on Monday, declaring that it was time for members of his party to “take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats” as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast.
It may be the right tone for McCain to take, but unfortunately conventions are the time when candidates most need to wear their party hats. Of course, it may not hurt the party that Bush and Cheney won't be speaking tomorrow night. But the need to curtail most of the usual speeches over the next four nights, along with a daily reminder of the botched response to Katrina, will sharply limit the GOP's opportunity to make up the 8-point bounce from last week's Democratic convention, a job that was already made more difficult by the mixed response to McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Speakers at the Republican convention will feel obligated to soften the partisan rhetoric, and will not be able to make up for the missed opportunity, even if the GOP hadn't expected to match the 38 million viewers that tuned in to Barack Obama's acceptance speech.
McCain will be doing the right thing politically by trying to appear presidential to the 2 million refugees, but then Obama will do the same. This task is more difficult for McCain without drawing a direct contrast with the failures of 2005. To the extent that photos of Bush presenting McCain with a birthday cake three years ago are recycled, this job becomes even more difficult.
Is it fair that the Republicans won't be able to make full use of their convention to counter the Democrat's success of last week? Of course not. But presidents--and presidential candidates--are buffeted by events, and can expect to be judged by how they deal with the unexpected. That's their job. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


It has said often that picking a running mate is the first presidential decision a candidate makes.
There's no question that Joe Biden is eminently qualified to be president. While in Denver, I didn't hear anyone voice anything less than delight or excitement about his selection. I didn't even hear anyone even offer an opinion that he's good, but I would have liked so-and-so. And I certainly didn't hear even the slightest reservation from delegates or the media about his qualifications to serve. What I did hear from many people from around the country say is that Joe Biden is the best choice Barack Obama could have made.
I don't know many people who are saying that about Sarah Palin. Her selection has been greeted with delight from the anti-abortion, creationism and oil drilling crowds. But is there anyone who can say that she is even close to being among the best qualified Republicans in the country?
I don't agree with much of what Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Kay Bailey Hutchinson espouse, but I wouldn't question their qualifications to serve in the second highest office in the land. There must be several hundred well qualified men and women among the many current and former senators, representatives, governors, cabinet members, generals, admirals and business leaders who are members of the Republican Party.
One quality we look for in a president is judgement. Barack Obama is universally considered to have showed good judgment in picking Joe Biden. John McCain's judgment in picking Sarah Palin has met with decidedly mixed reviews.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Charlie Cook on Sarah Palin

I ran across Charlie Cook (of the Cook Political Report) earlier today in the Denver airport, and asked him what he thought about Sarah Palin. He replied, "Barack Obama [deleted] looks like Henry Kissinger."

Sarah Palin?

So John McCain, who would be the oldest president to ever take office, picks the least experienced running mate in our lifetime. Sarah Palin is in her second year as governor of Alaska.
The McCain campaign intended today's announcement to steal some thunder from the Democrats. Instead, the selection is eliciting puzzlement from around the country.
McCain may be hoping to peel off some women, but I don't see a strong anti-abortion candidate making headway among Hillary voters. McCain may like her for her reputation as fighting pork barrel spending, but that is hardly the the biggest issue of the campaign. I'm not sure how a McCain may have reinforced his maverick brand with this truly quirky pick. Her selection will make it harder to attack Obama as not ready.
The vice presidential debate on October 2 will hardly be a fair fight. I wonder if Biden will simply talk past her to go after McCain.

Section 538

I took a tumble heading down to the floor earlier this evening and aggravated an already injured foot. Lucky for me, there was a doctor in the house, actually in the delegation: Dr. Spencer Epps, who tended my foot so I was able to stay with the delegation, though I didn't do much jumping up and down.
All around the stadium, people were cheering and waving flags. A guy up at the top of section 538, in the nosebleed seats, was waving a large American flag throughout the evening.
Al Gore was scathing in his criticism of the GOP's reluctance to act on, or even acknowledge, climate change:
We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis – everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, “Yes we can.” So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister? Because the carbon fuels industry – big oil and coal – have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it's worth.
Barack Obama did everything the pundits said he needed to do in his acceptance speech, including tying John McCain to George Bush:
Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but, really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I am not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.
Obama directly challenged McCain's ongoing effort to paint him as a celebrity by pointing to the challenges he and his family have overcome. He challenged McCain directly on foreign policy:
If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament and judgment to serve as the next commander-in-chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.
After enumerating his differences on national security with McCain, he sought to claim the high ground on the tone of the campaign:
But what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism. The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook.
So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together, and bled together,
and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America; they have served the United States of America.
So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first.
Obama understands that you don't get to be president by talking down our country's future:
America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
Afterwards, I couldn't quite march, but instead hobbled into the night.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Main Event

It has been quite a week of oratory this week in Denver. But I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Teddy Kennedy checked out of a hospital and roared like a lion on Monday night. Michelle Obama showed us steel and warmth as she described the way she and Barack have coped with the challenges families face across the country.
Hillary Clinton made it abundantly clear that she is squarely behind the party's nominee. Bill Clinton laid out the contrast between Democrats and Republicans as only he can.
Beau Biden showed us he knows how to work a big crowd as well as his dad. Joe Biden made the case that on foreign policy, John McCain has been wrong and Barack Obama has been right.
At the beginning of the week, the pundits were saying the campaign had to show that the Obama family has had to deal with the same problems and opportunities as families everywhere do. Done.
They were saying that they had to get the Clintons and their supporters fully on board. Done.
They were saying the campaign had to draw a sharp distinction between Obama and McCain. Done.
Now they are saying Obama has to chow he can connect with voters. I expect he will do just that. Yes, his oratory can soar, but he is just as adept at adopting a conversational tone, even in addressing thousands of voters. I have the feeling that he will get that job done as well.

Organizing the Crowd here in Denver

The Obama campaign never misses an opportunity to build its field organization. Even as thousands file into this football stadium, Obama's campaign is reminding the throng that politics is not a spectator sport.
Campaign manager David Plouff talked about the importance of organizing. He was followed by the Colorado field director, who is using the event to organize voter registration and outreach among those in attendance. Colorado is very much in play for Obama. He offered a seat on the convention floor to a lucky spectator who makes a dozen calls right here this afternoon.
There are about a hundred choice seats surrounding the podium, closer even than the Delaware delegation, which is again seated right up front. While many of those seats will go to the usual VIPs, a few will go to some small contributors, who won the seats through a lottery.
Access to data cables is limited, so I may not be able to file through all the evening.

The Convention Moves to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium

The logistics of the convention are daunting enough, but moving the seating, security, transportation, communications and media access overnight is an almost impossible task. One thing that won't be duplicated is the power and data connections on the field, so I won't be able to post from the floor as I've been doing all week. So I may not be able to provide instant analysis of Obama's speech; you'll just have to watch it yourselves.
Obama supporters back home in Delaware can do this at one of several convention watching parties in Wilmington, Newark and Rehoboth. There are hundreds of these being held across the country.
True to form, the Obama campaign is using tonight as an organizing opportunity as well as a media event. The program opens with a discussion of voter registration led by campaign manager David Plouffe. You can see the entire program here.
Next to Obama himself, the most eagerly awaited speaker is Al Gore, who has a somewhat undeserved reputation as a wooden speaker, even though he managed the unlikely trick of turning a lecture into a hit movie.
One interesting speaker tonight will be Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower. I expect her to continue the theme of portraying the GOP as having abandoned its historical roots as Jim Leach did on Monday night.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Joe Biden Rocks the Convention

The country just learned something we in Delaware have known for a long time: Joe Biden knows how to deliver a rousing speech. The Democrat's nominee for vice president was introduced by his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who is leaving shortly for a year-long tour in Iraq.
Joe started by talking about his family, and recounted his mother's admonition: "Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up."
He lowered his voice when he talked about the conversations families are having around the kitchen table:
Should mom move in with us now that dad is gone?
Fifty, sixty, seventy dollars to fill up the car?
Winter's coming. How we gonna pay the heating bills?
Another year and no raise?
Did you hear the company may be cutting our health care?
Now, we owe more on the house than it's worth. How are we going to send the kids to college?
How are we going to be able to retire?
He talked about serving with John McCain for thirty years: "It's a friendship that goes beyond politics." And then he talked about the differences between McCain and Obama, and dared to say that on foreign policy Barack Obama has shown superior judgment. Citing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran, he repeated the refrain, with the hall joining in:

John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.
He closed by invoking his mother's admonition:
Millions of Americans have been knocked down. And this is the time as Americans, together, we get back up.
When Joe was done, his wife Jill said she had a surprise, and brought out Barack Obama to the cheers of the crowd. He had good reason to be pleased with his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate.

Mo Rocca Visits with the Delaware Delegation

It's so crowded here that I've been relegated to sitting on the floor. I looked to my left and found Mo Rocca sitting next to me.
Mo peppered us with questions about Delaware culture, so Molly Jurusik and Abby Betts showed him the official delegation Blue Hen hat.

Not a Single No Vote

In a deft bit of parliamentary volleyball, New Mexico yielded the floor to Illinois, which yielded to New York, so that Hillary Clinton could move that Barack Obama be nominated by acclamation.
When Nancy Pelosi called for a voice vote on her motion, there was not a single no vote to be heard.

Delaware Casts its Votes for Obama

Roll calls used to be exciting events, playing out on primetime television. Not today. The nominating and seconding speeches were wrapped up by 3:45 this afternoon.
Delegation chair John Daniello stepped up to the microphone to cast Delaware’s votes:
Delaware, the first state of the United States, and the home of the next vice president of the United States of the United States, cast its votes unanimously with great pride for the next president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Convention Notes

Getting around and through various checkpoints take considerable time and effort. I'm staying in a residence hotel well south of downtown, and have to either take a shuttle bus or the light rail system to get downtown to the hotel where I pick up my credentials every day.
These commutes have made for some interesting sound backgrounds for my twice-daily radio interviews with Allan Loudel of WDEL. Yesterday I called in from on board Denver's excellent light rail system. This morning I did an interview from the back of a pedicab, a two-seat cab powered by bicycle.
A few friends have asked about the parties. The truth is I haven't been to any since Sunday. Besides the obvious fact that I'm not exactly A list material, I've been a bit of a grind since I got here; I haven't even had a beer since Sunday.
The two things I am always in need of are power and signal. Everywhere I go, I find myself looking for outlets and data connections. There's a data cable just for me at the desk of the delegation on the floor, so I've been able to file in the midst of the commotion around me.

Biden's Big Night

Tonight is Joe Biden's big night. The Guardian has posted a piece I wrote on what to expect from Joe Biden tonight.
Biden's speeches can run long, which invites another comparison with another gifted speechmaker, Bill Clinton. Isaiah Berlin wrote a famous essay (more quoted than read) called the Hedgehog and the Fox, based on the punch line of the Aesop fable: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
In Isaiah Berlin's formulation, Clinton is the fox and Biden the hedgehog. Clinton speeches would run long because he just had to insert six more, or a dozen more policy ideas, just to cover all the bases. When a Biden speech runs long, it's because he wants to make sure everyone in the room understands the one big idea that's on his mind. He will repeat key phrases for emphasis and describe at length why we should all care as much as he does about putting more cops on the street, or protecting the right to privacy, or the influence of Nato on Eastern Europe. Even when he slips into a parenthetical phrase, which can last several minutes, it's in support of the big idea.
When I said Berlin's essay is more quoted than read, I wasn't kidding. I should have read it again myself before referring to it.
Berlin attributes the saying to a fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus.
The essay sums up the difference between the fox and hedgehog in a sentence of Bidenesque length:
For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.
Biden is not the sort to toss off an idea and move on. We will see this single-mindedness and tenacity when he takes the stage tonight.

Hillary Voices her Emphatic Support for Obama

If there were any doubt about whether she was serious in her support for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton was clear enough in her speech tonight.
She emphatically voiced her support right from the start:
You know, I'm -- I'm here tonight as a proud mother, as a proud Democrat...(APPLAUSE)... as a proud senator from New York...(APPLAUSE)...a proud American...(APPLAUSE)...and a proud supporter of Barack Obama.
I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches, advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women's rights here at home and around the world...(APPLAUSE) see another Republican in the White House squander our promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people. And you haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months or endured the last eight years to suffer through more failed leadership. (APPLAUSE)
No way, no how, no McCain. (APPLAUSE) Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president.
Maybe it's because I was in the hall, but I think it was the best speech I've heard her give. I've already heard the same from friends at home. She neatly connected the prosperity of Bill Clinton's presidency with Obama's candidacy:
And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he'll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times. Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats. (APPLAUSE) And if we do our part, we'll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats.
She did a great job of contrasting Obama and McCain, and went on to invoke the story of Harriet Tubman:
And even in the darkest moments, that is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going.
I have seen it. I have seen it in our teachers and our firefighters, our police officers, our nurses, our small-business owners, and our union workers. I've seen it in the men and women of our military.

In America, you always keep going. We're Americans. We're not big on quitting.
And, remember, before we can keep going, we've got to get going by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States. (APPLAUSE)
Hillary's supporters seemed to be jumping up and cheering with equal enthusiasm whenever she mentioned Obama. So for those trying to perpetuate the story of a rift between Clinton and Obama, all I can say is we'll just have to take her at her word.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Talking Renewable Energy at the Convention

I had a chance to talk with Nancy Floyd of Nth Power, a company that invests in new energy technologies. She compared the clean energy business to the computer industry when the Macintosh came out in 1984 and voiced her frustration that Washington has failed to act on reauthorizing the renewable energy tax credit.The interview took place above the podium, which offers a pretty cool view of the arena. Here she is seen with Michael Eckhart of the American Council on Renewable Energy.
As we were wrapping up, Kathleen Sibelius was being interviewed.
I'll have more on the gridlock on the tax credit in the near future.

Alejandro Escovedo at the Convention

It's not all serious policy speeches here at the convention. Alejandro Escovedo came out and laid down a serious backbeat that got the delegates up on their feet.
Unfortunately he, like many presenters, was given only five minutes.

Barbecue with Howard Dean

Howard Dean invited bloggers to sit for a tailgate barbecue. It wasn't exactly in the skyboxes; instead it was held in the bus drivers tent in parking lot B. He said we should ignore the media chatter about friction between Hillary and Obama supporters.
Dean is all about the ground game; he seems to have an intimate grasp of what's going on in every race in the country. He discussed the opportunity to win one or two electoral votes in Nebraska, one of two states that isn't awarding votes on a winner-take-all basis.
We bloggers may seem like the small fry in the vast media industry covering the convention, but Howard Dean appreciates the work we do. The embedded blogger program parallels his 50 state strategy that has built party strength across the country.

Inside and Outside the Hall

Approaching the Pepsi Center, I am struck at the enormity of the media industry connected to the event. Large tents, some of them two stories, fill the parking lot, along with vans, satellite dishes, antennas and miles and miles of power lines and data cables. Half of the arena, in the hall and in the labyrinth below, is devoted to the media. There must be several reporters, editors, pundits, photographers, techs and support staff for every delegate, all devoted to the task of describing the convention to the world.
I find myself wondering how different this all looks at home compared to the view from the convention floor, and how speeches come across inside and outside the hall. Many speakers tend to slip into arena orator mode, raising the inflection of their phrases and slowing down their rhythms to match the echo of the hall. “Today…ay…ay…I consider myself…elf…elf…the luckiest man…an…an…”
Some orators do that naturally. (Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair sounded like he did it at the breakfast table.) Ted Kennedy mastered the art long ago. Barack Obama is unusually gifted in front of the large gatherings that flock to see him.
But the best speechmakers somehow manage to sound conversational even in a basketball arena. Michelle Obama did it last night. Bill Clinton is a master of the art, as he showed at the convention four years ago. Ed Rendell, who sits down with a regular crew of sportscasters every Sunday night after Eagles games, has the conversational style; he’s the same guy in person as he is before the camera.
Joe Biden combines both styles. He will roar, work the crowd, repeat phrases for emphasis, and then at a crucial point he will lower his voice to talk about what’s at stake. He will, in some mysterious way, be delivering a speech and conducting a conversation at the same time. How does he do it? Like Rendell, he is the same guy in front of a large room as he is in a living room, except he is much more intense. It will be interesting to see how he comes across in the hall and on television when many people will see him speak for the first time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama at the Podium

Lots of Americans found out just what a great speaker Michelle Obama is. She brought the crowd to its feet when she praised Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and spoke of her love of her country:
All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.
That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope.
That is why I love this country.
If her job was to draw a connection between her family's life and the lives of families everywhere, then she succeeded. I saw tears in a few eyes as she spoke of her parents, brother, husband and daughters with pride and warmth.

The View from the Floor

The Delwaware delegation started to gather on the floor shortly before the gavel came down this afternoon.
Delegates Jim Paoli, Ken Woods and Betsy Maron took in the view from the front of the hall.
Member of the Idaho delegation came down to congratulate Delaware on Joe Biden's selection. Idaho was bumped to the back of the floor when Biden got picked as the VP nominee.
At this point in the proceedings, there are as many reporters on the floor as delegates, and most of the delegates are shooting photos of each other. As I write this a woman just spoke into a phone, saying she's standing under the Delaware sign.

The Gavel Comes Down

The gavel comes down on the first night of the convention at 3:00 PM Denver time. The agenda is crowded; more than fifty presenters will offer speeches, songs and videos, ranging from Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter to Mike Fisher and Cheryl Fisher of Beech Grove, Indiana, who hosted Barack Obama for lunch earlier this year.
Several Republicans will step up to the podium tonight, including former Iowa congressman Jim Leach, who recently retired as director of Harvard’s Institute for Politics. I had a chance to talk with him and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post last night. Leach, who wears a red sweater even in August, contrasted the current adventurism of Bush and Cheney with the sense of restraint that prevailed during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. He pointed out that Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne only once in his eight years—and that was to Little Rock, Arkansas when nine black students enrolled at Central High School.
The headliner tonight is Michelle Obama. Most Americans have yet to learn just how compelling a speaker she is. Her “raising the bar” speech in Wilmington, in which she compared the struggles of her upbringing and family life to those of American families everywhere, is still one of the best I’ve heard this year. I expect a similar focus tonight, as the campaign continues with its kitchen table theme. Those who tune in will learn that Barack and Michelle Obama didn't come from privileged backgrounds, but worked hard in school and the community to get where they are in life. The point, of course, is not that they worked hard for what they accomplished, but that, with higher prices, lower wages and less job security, it's getting harder for families to do what they did.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Public Speaking

It is fashionable about this time for commentators to complain that political conventions have lost their function. With nominations decided months in advance, conventions are said to be little more than four night political advertisements—as if telling citizens how they propose to govern is of no greater value than selling cars or toothpaste.
Even in this age of television, blogs and text messages, the speech remains the most basic element of campaigning and governing—just as it was in the age of Pericles. The fundamental political act in politics is standing in front of people and speaking. This is true whether the group is a small gathering in a neighbor's living room or 75,000 in a football stadium.
This of course offends the instincts of political commentators, who see their job as explaining politicians to the public. In this view, politicians are so devious in their use of the English language that professionals must be called in to deconstruct or translate their arcane utterances for our untrained ears.
The Pew Research Center published a poll last week that found that 59 percent of Americans will be tuning in the Democratic convention this week, despite the dismissive comments from those who would have us believe it’s all a waste of air time.

Delaware Delegation Moved Up Front

Yesterday, I related a comment that the selection of Joe Biden should put the Delaware delegation front and center, which I took to be metaphorical. Shortly after I arrived here, C-SPAN e-mailed me that the delegation was being moved literally, not figuratively, as Joe would say.
C-SPAN2 has posted a few seconds of video of the delegation being moved to the front. The clip shows the sign being wheeled down the floor. It will be like sitting in the front pew in church; I'll have to at least look like I'm paying attention.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's Joe

I got my e-mail at 4:51 this morning, and no I didn't wait up. Barack Obama has picked Joe Biden as his running mate. I drove by Biden's house this morning, and the media cars and truck were stretched out for a quarter of a mile. MSNBC just flashed a live helicopter shot of the house as I write this.
The Delaware delegation is seated towards the back of the arena, but I've already heard someone say this will put the state front and center.
Joe Biden will join Barack Obama for a rally in Springfield, Illinois at 3 PM eastern time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Predicting the Convention Bounce

How much of a bump can Barack Obama expect from the convention? TPM Election Central reports that a McCain campaign memo is pushing the expectation that Obama will get a whopping 15 percent boost in the polls in the aftermath of next week's convention. The memo uses Bill Clinton's big 16 point bounce in 1992 as the benchmark, a problematic comparison considering that Ross Perot dropped out of the race at the end of the convention. Nate Silver of, writing in New York magazine, calculates the average convention bump to be six points. That feels about right to me, given the relative stability of polling results over the last several months. The McCain campaign memo tries to discount in advance Obama's power as a speaker, even noting that the speech will come on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. This is a little like saying Michael Phelps is likely to swim really fast. You can raise the expectations, but that didn't stop him from blowing his rivals out of the water. Likewise, Obama is till going to have millions of Americans tuning in as he delivers what should be another spellbinding performance. And if more people tune in for Obama than for McCain, the impact of his speech will be accentuated. The Pew Research Center just published some polling that shows greater interest in the Democratic convention than the Republican convention. Across the board, Democrats, independents and Republicans said they are more interested in following the Democratic convention by about ten percentage points. Interest in the Democratic convention is running 23 points higher than in 2004. With more voters tuning in, Obama will have a greater chance to turn voter his way than will McCain the following week.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Getting Ready for Denver

I'm gearing up for my departure for the Democratic National Convention early Sunday morning. I plan to write about the experience itself; what it's like to be on the floor of the convention, the logistics of getting around, picking up credentials and looking back at the rest of the world from inside the biggest media bubble this side of the Beijing Olympics.
One thing I won't be dong is live blogging the convention. If you want to know what Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Mark Warner, Al Gore and Barack Obama have to say, then tune in one of the many media channels covering the event. You can even join other Obama enthusiasts for one of several convention watching parties by checking here.
If you want to know what I have to say, then come on over to TommyWonk; I'll be posting several times a day. I'll also be recording podcasts at DelawareLiberal thanks to the technical wizardry of LiberalGeek, doing live reports with Allan Loudell on WDEL, and possibly posting more pieces for the Guardian's U.S. website. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TommyWonk On Biden

With Joe Biden on Barack Obama's short list, the world is looking for those with insights into our senior senator. The Guardian recently opened a new U.S. website, Comment is free. The Guardian's U.S. bureau tapped me for some comments on Joe Biden:
And for those who dismiss diplomacy as sissy stuff, Biden would be the embodiment of muscular diplomacy. Students of history may recall the way Lyndon Johnson ruled the Senate before becoming president, which came to be called the Johnson treatment. He would lean in on a colleague when making an argument, grasp him by the shoulder and get in his face. Few could withstand him in a one-on-one conversation when he subjected them to the full force of his personality and tower over them with his six foot, three inch frame.
I've seen the Biden treatment in action. When he is fully engaged with a subject, whether Nato or crime or his Iraq plan, he brings the full force of his personality and intellect to bear on his audience. Anyone who's been up close with him doesn't easily forget the experience. I can imagine the Biden treatment on the world stage. World leaders, most of whom already know him, would have a hard time dismissing his argument. The guy just doesn't let up.
If Biden is picked, I could end up a busy guy explaining to the world what Joe is like.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Delaware Sierra Club Gubernatorial Forum Tuesday

The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club (of which I am a member) is hosting a gubernatorial forum on environmental issues Tuesday night at 7:00 at the Jewish Community Center on Eden Hill Road, just off Rt. 202. The Sierra Club is teaming up with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and 10 other co-sponsors.
Michael McCabe, one of Delaware's most respected environmentalists, is moderating the forum. Michael is a former deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The News Journal reports that one invited candidate will not be attending:
Retired Judge Bill Lee, the GOP's endorsed candidate, has declined all such invitations until after the Sept. 9 primary.
So far Bill Lee has avoided offering more than a few talking points on environmental issues. Perhaps he is devoting the time not spent discussing the issues to studying them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

If the Strangelings are reviving the folk rock sounds of the 1960s and early 1970s, then the Espers look and sound like they never left.
Last night on the main stage, they sat almost motionless and played long, moody songs with ethereal voices, fuzzy, legato tones from the electric guitar and a sax played through two different echo boxes.
Saturday night is the last chance for many to try their singing and picking in the camp grounds; some were still at it when the moon was setting this morning.
Hoots & Hellmouth, who recently played the Arden Music Festival, don't play folk rock so much as folk stomp. They drag homemade wooden platforms to their gigs for them to jump up and down on as percussion instruments. They first played the Philly Folk Fest two years ago. I caught them earlier today on the camp stage; tonight they're on the main stage, where they should provide quite a show.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Strangelings at Folk Fest

The Strangelings took the Lobby Stage this afternoon to a packed and wildly appreciative crowd.
For those of us who were a little too young to catch the great folk rock bands like Fairport Convention and It's a Beautiful Day in their heyday, the Strangelings provide the next best thing. Their first record is called Season of the Witch, after a Donovan song, which they covered with heaps of atmosphere and a serious backbeat.
They come complete with three great female vocalists, an electric sitar and a skinny violin player in mirror shades.

Folk Music Up Close

In a few minutes, folk icon Tom Paxton will be on one of the side stages for a session on topical songs with the Refugees, David Massingill, John Francis and Nicole Reynolds.
Performers spread out to five different stages before they fire up the sound on the main stage. Many of the artists scheduled for the main stage can be seen up close and personal earlier in the day.
All told more than 30 acts will play on the smaller stages before the sun goes down today.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Red Molly at Folk Fest

Red Molly played to an enthusiastic audience on the Lobby Stage under the big tent. A young fan named Lotus listened intently to their harmonies.
The band gleefully read a notice from Philadelphia Weekly that describes them as "new-school hotties" to hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Gershwin and Hula Hoops at Folk Fest

Pete Kennedy needed only the four strings of his ukulele to perform Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
Moments later he invited his wife, Maura Kennedy, up onstage; she stole the show by playing the uke while dancing in a hula hoop.
They shared the Camp Stage with fellow ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who dazzled the crowd with his flamenco and jazz-tinged compositions, and Anthony DeCosta, who sang with power and conviction.
As I'm writing this, John Francis is opening the proceedings on the main stage, asking "who took the sting out of Cassius Clay?"

The Philly Folk Fest: Making It Happen

Even though the music started last night at the Camp Stage, and is already underway this morning, volunteers are still setting up.
The Philadelphia Folk Festival doesn't just happen. More than 2,000 volunteers make it happen.
Fest is managed by a sizable volunteer bureaucracy, with committees for grounds, security, sound, electricity, trash and recycling, hospitality, purchasing, food, marketing and more. I find it remarkable how smoothly the whole thing runs.
A friend talked me into volunteering a few years back. It's a great way to experience Fest; when I first showed up as a volunteer, I met about 50 people in an hour. My gig is the Security Annex, the all-night canteen for volunteers. I work the graveyard shift, which is relatively quiet. I like it; I'm able to put in my hours without missing any music, at least until the sleep deprivation catches up with me during an afternooon concert.
If you'd like to be a part of making Fest happen, you can still sign up by going to the Folk Fest website.
Of course, if you just want to sit on the hill and enjoy some great music, that's cool too; the weather's just about perfect. Come on up, and tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Off to the Philly Folk Fest

I'm off to the Philly Folk Fest later today. Last year, I wrote of "unexpected, luminous moments of musical or visual experience," such as watching a woman dance to a Doc Watson song in a glow in the dark hula hoop.
Notable performers scheduled include David Massengill, Tom Paxton, Red Molly, Steve Earle, Judy Collins, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet and local heroes Hoots & Hellmouth. But I have often found that some of my favorite performers are those I haven't heard before.
I'll be posting from the Fest, so stay tuned. Better yet, head on up and experience it for yourself. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My City Councilman

We are now four weeks away from the primary election. With hotly contested races from top to bottom, I expect the turnout on the Democratic side to be the highest in years. While I'm going to be in Denver in two weeks to hobnob with the national party, I haven't forgotten that there's still nothing quite like retail politics. There's a visceral quality to politics on the street level: conversations with neighbors, the smell of fresh ink on yard signs and sore feet at the end of a Saturday lit drop.
Cam Hay is my city councilman. When Gerald Brady was elected as state representative in 2006, Cam was selected by Council to fill his seat.
Cam's most significant accomplishment in his short time on Council is the thorough revision of the comprehensive plan and zoning map for the 8th district. When Cam came into office, the district was embroiled in land use fights that left citizens frustrated with their inability to control the future of their neighborhoods.
Cam sponsored a review process that involved city planners and civic leaders in revising the zoning map piece by piece. Their recommendations were adopted unanimously by Council—a far cry from recent battles that left residents feeling that their city government was unable to protect them from unsustainable development.
Cam also sponsored a resolution putting Council on record as supporting offshore wind power in Delaware, so my readers won't be surprised to read that I am supporting Cam and working on his campaign.
Cam has been going door to door in the district, so if you live in my part of town, don't be surprised to see him on your front steps.
Cam has two opponents: Joe Zilcosky, who garnered a few votes in the primary against Gerald Brady in 2006, and Steve Martelli, an ex-cop. As a recent addition to City Council, Cam is taking the election seriously and working hard to earn the votes of his neighbors.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Charlie Copeland's Conversion to Wind Power

Back in June, I was more interested in what legislators did than in what they said. I wasn't about to argue with anyone who was prepared to vote yes. But even then I had no intention of allowing the most determined opponents of wind power let themselves off the hook by claiming to have been on the right side all along.
Charlie Copeland and his apologists are hoping that voters will somehow forget his prolonged opposition to the Bluewater Wind project, despite the inconvenient and incontrovertible record to the contrary. I laid out some of that record of opposition after Copeland asserted that Matt Denn was "fabricating" information on the subject:
"I was in favor of the Bluewater Wind vote on the floor of the Senate, so I wish he would start from ground zero and get things right."
In other words, Copeland wants Matt Denn and everyone else in Delaware to forget what he did before that vote, and just remember that he was one of 62 legislators who voted yes when the compromise deal was put before them.
Dave Burris, who has returned to blogging, has posted numerous comments in defense of Copeland on DelawareLiberal and elsewhere. Dave offers up a variety of explanations for Copeland's previous opposition before the vote on June 25. Here's my favorite:
You’re all talking about a wind farm deal that did not happen. It was cast aside in favor of a better deal. The wind farm deal that did happen was 100% supported by Sen. Copeland.
The problem with that argument is that Charlie Copeland didn't just oppose the Bluewater PPA; he opposed any PPA. He opposed even requiring Delmarva Power to sit and negotiate a PPA:
"We ought to let private investors compete against one another to get us the best price point and price stability. I think the marketplace would do that better than some regulatory regime," Copeland said.
It was not a matter of preferring a new and improved PPA. Charlie Copeland said that the state should not require any PPA at all, and that Delaware should stick with the ill-fated experiment in deregulation. I'm still happy that he voted for the deal; I just wish he could be more honest about his previous public opposition to wind power in Delaware.

Friday, August 08, 2008

"Sometimes the facts hurt."

The News Journal reports that Charlie Copeland has leveled a withering criticism at his opponent, Matt Denn:
"I think that [Denn] reads too many blogs," Copeland said.
And what nonsense found its way into Matt Denn's head under our nefarious influence? The idea that Copeland and Harris McDowell opposed the Bluewater Wind project! Honestly, where could anyone have gotten such a notion?
Perhaps Denn got the idea from the
letter that McDowell and Copeland signed warning Controller General Russ Larson not to sign off on a wind power deal.
Or perhaps from
Copeland's statement opposing the process established under HB 6.
Perhaps because of Copeland's complicity in the hiring of D.C. litigator Randall Speck to cross examine PSC chair Arnetta McRae. (
Copeland admitted on the air that he knew of Speck's hiring a week before the Senate hearing at which McRae was blindsided.)
And then there's the Senate Energy & Transit Committee report, which Copeland supported:

Denn said the problem with Copeland's vote was in the Energy Committee hearings when the senator voted to release the report compiled by the committee on the costs and benefits of creating an agreement with Bluewater Wind. He said advocates for Bluewater Wind characterized that vote as a vote against the project.

Copeland defended his vote in committee, saying it was simply so the report could be released to the public. He said the purpose of the committee report was to explore the most cost-efficient ways to implement renewable energy, not derail the Bluewater Wind project, and take into account all of the mitigating factors like the rising cost of oil and gasoline.

As it happens, I read the report, which in its draft form was clearly intended to kill the Bluewater deal. The first recommendation reads:
(1) The Senate vote to instruct the Controller General to disapprove all of the long-term contracts proposed under the RFP Hearing...
That's clear enough. The final version was softened due to intense pressure inside and outside the committee:
(1) The Senate should instruct the Controller General to give great weight to this report when considering all long-term contracts currently proposed under HB-6.
Keep in mind, the report was still so negative and one-sided that members of the committee presented a minority report:
4. The Draft Report is deeply flawed in its findings, analysis, methodology and understanding of the legal and technical issues surrounding the implementation of HB 6 and the negotiation of the Bluewater PPA. It is a one-sided document that echoes the economic, policy, and legal arguments of Delmarva Power while ignoring the views of those who disagree with the Committee Chairman.
Copeland asserts that he voted for the committee report just to get it out to the public, although it had already been leaked. But two of the report's recommendations in particular reflect his thinking at the time:
(3) The General Assembly should consider adopting a fixed incentive similar to the approach implemented in New Jersey to stimulate competitive development of offshore wind generation resources.
(4) The General Assembly should consider forming by joint resolution, a task force to investigate the feasibility of a demonstration project for an offshore wind facility financially supported by the federal government and the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia.
In short, Copeland was advocating dropping the current process and starting over. He would have started by getting the State of Delaware to put up money it didn't have to attract proposals. (No public money has gone to developing the Bluewater project.) Next, he advocated getting four states and the federal government to work together on wind power when three of these states are already engaged in their separate procurement programs. It would take a year to even convene a meeting on this approach. And yet, these recommendations were designed to allow the report's authors to claim that they really do like wind power, which is just what Copeland is doing.
Copeland complains that Denn is "fabricating" information on this subject, but the record clearly shows he was against wind power before he was for it.
Sorry Charlie, but we're talking about the biggest issue of the last two years, and you can hardly expect that your public actions and statements could simply fade from the public record. Matt Denn has it exactly right:

Denn said Copeland only voted in favor of Bluewater Wind after it was a done deal.

"If it's negative to point out to people that he was against the Bluewater Wind project, I'm sorry he feels that way, but sometimes the facts hurt," Denn said.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

John McCain, Paris Hilton and Energy Policy

I never thought I would ever write about Paris Hilton. I was wrong.
As Reuters and the rest of western civilization are reporting, John McCain is now embroiled in an energy debate with Paris Hilton. I am not making this up.
John McCain said last week he was proud of his sophomoric TV ad comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Perhaps his pride has waned somewhat now that Hilton has posted a snarky reply in a leopard skin bathing suit.
McCain's ads, spawned by the Karl Rove disciples who have assumed control of his campaign, were intended to bring Obama down a notch or two. But how does it look when the silver-haired senator finds himself locked in a debate on energy with the air-headed socialite?
McCain's put out a serious sounding response about Hilton agreeing with McCain's energy policy, without thinking through the question of whether they actually want to be seen as discussing the issue with her.
The Obama campaign's response was more succinct: “Whatever.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

TommyWonk Speaks

In a bravura display of low production values, Mike Matthews of Down With Absolutes has posted a cell phone camera video of me talking to the assembled crowd at last week's Drinking Liberally. The image wobbles and pulsates like a scene from a bad 1960s acid movie.
The two clips show me gamely trying to deliver a short speech in the face of heckling from my friends.
Thanks again to everyone who showed up, offered support for my trip to the convention, and had so much fun in the process.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Making Sense of the Polls

A conversation I just had with Allan Loudell on WDEL got me thinking about the polling trends. Allan, who talks frequently with pollster John Zogby, has highlighted Zogby's latest phone poll that shows an 11 point swing from early July. The Zogby poll also shows some head-scratching results like a 9 percent drop for Obama among Democrats and a 36 percent swing to McCain among young voters. (By the way WDEL posts podcasts of recent interviews for those who can't always listen live.)
Zogby's polling looks more volatile than Gallup's tracking poll, which shows McCain consistently in the narrow range of 40 to 44 percent and Obama consistently in the range of 44 to 49 percent.'s chart that compiles results from national polls shows more of a modest bump for McCain than a drop in support for Obama. This would be consistent with the theory that McCain's negative advertising was as much meant to boost his standing among right-leaning voters as it was to cut down Obama's standing among undecideds.
How much do the polls mean at this point? Political Arithmetick has an interesting comparison of the relative standing of Obama, Kerry and Gore during the last three presidential election years:
You can see that the numbers moved quite a bit in the late summer and early fall, as the candidates showcased themselves at their conventions. The good news for Obama is that he has consistently trended ahead of McCain for most of the year, and polled better than either Kerry or Gore did in 2000 and 2004. Gore only led for a short stretch in the late summer. Kerry showed a weak lead in the summer before falling sharply and never recovering.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Looking Ahead a Few Weeks

Looking through my calendar, I realize I've got a busy time ahead of me.
In the next five weeks and two days, I will be (1) going to, and blogging from, the Philly Folk Fest, (2) going to the Sierra Club gubernatorial forum on August 19; (3) blogging from the Democratic National Convention; (4) helping some candidates (I'll let you know who) in the Democratic primary on September 9; (5) on hand to welcome the American Wind Energy Association to Wilmington the same day as the primary; and (6) doing whatever else it is I do in day-to-day life.
I plan to write on the heroes and villains of the wind power saga in Delaware, take a closer look at the gridlock in Congress over renewable energy tax credits, and further review the reasons why oil companies aren't spending billions to lower the price they can charge. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Thank You

A remarkable thing happened last night at Drinking Liberally. My friends and readers raised $570 to help defray the cost of going to Denver. Also, Pandora was declared Delaware's Hottest Blogger (well maybe that isn't so remarkable).
Votes were cast in $5 increments with the names of various bloggers written on five, ten and twenty dollar bills. I went home with a stack of bills with "Donviti," "Panadora," "LiberalGeek, "Dominique," "Cassandra," "Anne O'Malia" of Fix Red Clay and even "The guy who looks like Captain Kirk" scribbled on the face.
I was stunned by the take. I was thinking my friends might raise enough for cab fare; instead they pulled in enough for air fare. Thank you all.