On Sunday October 21st, from 2pm to 5pm, the San Mateo Democratic Party, under the leadership of my friend Andrew Byrnes, is going to be hosting its first-ever straw poll -- an event where people come to mingle, hear from the presidential candidates, possibly get a chance to ask questions of them directly, and, finally, vote on them. Straw polls are unscientific, but can reflect the regional popularity and organizing effectiveness of candidates.
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We really want this event to be a success, to get an event going comparable to Iowa's straw poll. We want news stories about this, and we want candidates in future presidential elections to regard this as a major event. (Compare the success of Yearly Kos -- which will in future years be the "Netroots Nation" convention -- which in one year went from being regarded as a niche event, to an event which seven of eight candidates felt they needed to attend. Thanks in no small part, I should mention, to the early endorsement of two of my favorite ex-governors.) Having a high-profile regional or state-wide straw-poll would help make our voices heard more clearly in the primary process, in a way that even participation in the "super-duper Tuesday on steroids" will not (since that will be diluted by sharing with many other large states). The straw-poll offers the media a hook to talk specifically about Californian issues -- which often are issues that do matter to the nation at large. We are a significant percentage of the nation, and on demography, geography, and economics, we're an impressively representative sample of all that America has to offer.
So I hope you'll sign up, and I hope you'll consider doing so through my personal recruiting page. Just make sure to check off the box at the bottom confirming that I referred you! If you're interested in attending, and can't afford the $25 ticket price, please get in touch with me (leave a comment or email me), as I may have a few free or subsidized tickets available.
Important note: You do not have to be registered as a Democrat to participate! You don't even have to be currently registered to vote; as long as you are somebody who could conceivably vote in our primary (a US citizen and a resident of California) you are welcome! The California Democratic Party (notably unlike the CA GOP) welcomes voters who register their party as "Decline to State" to vote in our presidential primary. If you're registered as some other party, you can't vote in our primary, but given that the straw poll is months ahead of the deadline to re-register, we don't really care about that -- you can be a Republican, a Green, whatever.
Of course, if you're DTS (or some other party), there will probably be people there offering to re-register you as a Dem. Joining the party lets you actually vote for officials. If you're in AD21 (Redwood City and Palo Alto people, I'm looking at you) that would mean you can vote for me! Also, registering a party may help reduce the amount that various people try to contact you, compared to if you're a DTS voter (and hence seen as one of those precious "swing voters" that everybody desperately wants; the Republican party generally doesn't want to try to contact registered Dems; after all, that just reminds them that there's an election).
Also, those annoying calls you get during election season? If you give a firm yes/no about your vote, the only further call you should get from the same group is (if you said you're for them) a "Have you voted yet?" on election day, and if you can truthfully say "I did!" you'll get no more after that. (Also, if the registrars' records show that you're a solid voter -- that you turn out, every election -- you'll become less likely to get that "get out the vote" reminder call. And if you register absentee, you can mail in your ballot in advance, and then not need to get to the polls. Though you retain the option to drop off the absentee ballot, in its envelope, at any precinct in your county.) Of course, if we rewrote the McCain-Feingold anti-coordination provisions sanely, you wouldn't get so many calls from different groups; groups like the Sierra Club would be able to tell the Democratic Party, "We talked to Bob Smith and he says he's voting for your guy." Coordinating field strategy should be treated differently from coordinating media strategy.
So, the question I submitted to the YKos Presidential Leadership Forum got asked... sort of. They attached my name, while saying "lots of people asked about this". And then they kind of mangled my intent. You can hear what they actually asked here, in Part II, somewhere around the 17-minute mark (for some reason YouTube is showing me remaining time, not elapsed time; it's at 8:30 remaining). They basically phrased it as "lots of people are worried about China, what should we do about that?" The question I actually submitted -- and it seems like they must've liked my original language, given that they picked me -- actually put the emphasis on the other side. I don't have the text handy, but the gist was, "China is going to be a superpower within 50 years no matter what we do, and it's critical we build a constructive relationship with them and make sure the Chinese people, separate from their government, see us as people who offered a helping hand pulling them up the ladder, not a boot trying to kick them back down the ladder. At the same time, people have all these concerns -- safety, human rights, etc. How do we balance these two issues?" (And actually, I think I rolled in India as well, because I've been extremely concerned about the implications of our nuclear deal with them. But we already have a strong and constructive relationship with them.) In any case, they posed the question to Obama, and I thought he did an excellent job answering.
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The moderator actually had sent me an email, but unfortunately he sent it after the last time I checked my email the previous night, and I got up very early the next morning and went straight to the con. So I never got the message that I was supposed to come find him before the debate so I could read my question...
In general, I think Obama clearly had the strongest performance, though all the candidates did pretty well.
Edwards was very good, making a lot of points that resonated strongly with the crowd. He did pass up an opportunity to make a powerful point on a currently-popular issue, that was tossed to him by Kucinich. Kucinich asked if, in addition to forswearing lobbying money like he already has, he'd give up hedge-fund managers' contributions; this was an opening to say, "Lobbyists exist solely to influence policy. If you participate in a 401k or other pension plan, you understand that the investment business is important and useful, and I don't think we should look at investment professionals all that differently from people who work in technology, education, or plumbing. Hedge fund managers are admittedly a specialized, and very well-paid, type of investment professional -- but "hedge fund" doesn't mean anything very specific these days, it's really just a high-end mutual fund; some managers are good, some aren't. Every business has its bad actors, and they deserve to be identified and prosecuted; we need to beef up the SEC's investigative arm to make sure fewer bad actors get away with their crimes, and to deter would-be thieves. But let me tell you, even if we're talking about fine, upstanding citizens in this business, their income should be treated the same as everybody else's, and if any of them are donating to me thinking that will keep me from closing the loophole we've heard so much about recently -- they've got another thing coming." I've been told that at his breakout session after the debate, Edwards made exactly this point. I guess maybe in the group session he felt like he didn't have time? In any case, it was overall a good performance -- he continues to be the most forthright in addressing economic issues, especially healthcare -- and he was only second to Obama because Obama was either having a very "on" night, or has learned enough from the past few debates to improve his performance.
Hillary pissed the crowd off with a couple of answers, especially one that I guess maybe she was "sincerely wrong" about: the lobbyist contribution issue. Pretty much everybody else on the panel dissected her, for that one. And deservedly so. She performed considerably better in her breakout session (which Xta and I attended), where she had sharp, well-prepared answers on most issues that got asked about. One exception was that she punted on a question about the Telecommunications Act (come on, you're at a blogger convention!), literally saying, "Ask Al Gore." From what she did say, I was not encouraged to think she'd take as strong a position as I'd like (or as the other candidates would take) on opposing continued media consolidation. On the bright side, she did seem to have good positions on the fair, open auction of radio spectrum, and on net neutrality. (But that's not exactly setting her apart from anyone else.)