Democratic Candidates Speak to Faithful in San Diego

Random Lengths News | May 2, 2007
Two years ago, in Los Angeles, the mood at the California Democratic Party's annual gathering was gloomy. Bush and Cheney had been re-elected a few months before, the Republicans still had a firm grip on Congress, and the threat of Schwarzenegger's propositions loomed. The prevailing attitude was "just wait until people see how bad things will be during Bush, Part 2."

What a difference a year makes. The day in question being Nov. 2, 2006, when the Democrats took control of Congress. At this year's state convention in San Diego, the party faithful were buoyed by the likes of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the appearance of seven of eight presidential hopefuls, and the country's dawning realization that Iraq and Vietnam are a lot closer than the map would indicate.

Saturday's highlights included former Governor -- now Attorney General -- Jerry Brown, who made a rousing speech that started with a promise to sue automakers over emission standards. He finished by talking about Nixon and Watergate and what happened to the GOP. Referring to Bush and Iraq, Brown said, "We have the second self-destruction of the Republican party." There's no doubt that, even after three decades, Brown is still an idol of California Democrats.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, presidential candidates former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico appeared before the 2,000-plus delegates and said, essentially, the same things.

One after another, the candidates' laundry list included: Bush is bad, get out of Iraq, universal health care, jobs, respect a woman's right to choose, fix the educational system, provide affordable (or free) college education, ensure rights for immigrants, and give the rest of the world a reason to once more look up to America.

Hillary Clinton opened with the crowd-pleasing line, "I like seeing women in charge in Washington." In a hoarse voice, Clinton asked, "Are you ready for change?" Obama declared, "It's time to the turn the page." Edwards echoed the "it's time" sentiment. Kucinich called for people to "come together," and Richardson said, "I need you."

At a press conference following her speech, Clinton said she would work for public financing of elections. If necessary, she'd support a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling that political contributions are equivalent to free speech. Questioned about free trade issues, Clinton said agreements must include labor and environmental standards and the U.S. needs to "work with our neighbors to the south (on these matters)."

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez introduced Clinton, joined by several other legislators, including Assemblywoman Betty Karnette, who announced they are endorsing Clinton for president.

Obama spoke later in the day to an equally packed house. His legion of younger and louder supporters escorted him to the podium and provided a less "buttoned-down" atmosphere than Clinton’s crowd. His best line (referring to Iraq) was, "I stood up in 2002 when it wasn't popular to stand up."

Dennis Kucinich, the compact congressman from Cleveland, berated Bush on Iraq. "We must," he said, "challenge the idea of war as an instrument of policy." He also touted his recent bill to impeach Vice President Richard Cheney.

John Edwards had the loudest and longest demonstration. His Sunday morning speech to a less than full house kicked off with an immediate reference to "the bleeding sore that is Iraq." Edwards told the crowd, "I voted for it and I was wrong," prompting one delegate to declare "Hillary won't admit it."

Edwards raised some topics the others didn't discuss. He talked about racial injustice and continuing inequality. The 2004 vice presidential candidate also stressed the need to address the matter of 37 million Americans who live in poverty.

Regarding labor, Edwards stated, "If you can sign a card to join the Republican Party, you should be able to sign a card and join a union." His health care talking points included portability and the need to ban pre-existing condition rules.

Edwards' shot at leading candidates Clinton and Obama was, "We (Democrats) need a candidate who can campaign everywhere, not just in California and New York, but also in Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida."

Clearly, Edwards moved the audience. Following his speech, one said, "It's the first time I cried all weekend."

Bill Richardson appealed to the audience's more intellectual nature. In a speech laden with humor, the New Mexico governor talked about his experience and qualifications to lead. He told them America has a record of electing governors. "Carter, Clinton, Reagan, Bush; well, maybe the last two aren't such a good example."

Richardson stressed his Latino roots and provided examples of his state's support for veterans and the environment. Citing New Mexico’s alternative energy programs, he told delegates, "We're ahead of you, California."

Dodd and Gravel also spoke at the convention. Delaware Senator Joe Biden was campaigning in South Carolina and chose not to attend.

After the last speech, one Democrat said it was "the best group of presidential candidates we've ever had."

It remains to be seen if the sour grapes of 2004 turn into the celebratory champagne of 2008, but optimism reigned the last weekend of April in San Diego. Delegate Mike Chernus, of San Pedro, summed it up, "I feel an energy that has to do with hope."

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