A Report from the Florida Democratic State Convention
December 8, 2003
There were seven
Democratic Presidential candidates, three thousand delegates, one
thousand additional guests, one thousand Dean supporters bused in
to pack the hall, and dozens of journalists at the Florida Democratic
Party (FDP) State Democratic Convention. The only problem: there
wasn't anything newsworthy going on. That's right. Nada. Nothing.
Zippo. Zilch. It looked important, but it was all for show.
When the FDP
leaders voted last month -- under heavy pressure from the DNC and
some of the national campaigns -- to cancel the Presidential straw
ballot, they killed the only thing that would have been real news.
Thus, it was appropriate that the Florida Dems officially christened
the convention as La Fiesta -- the celebration -- because
that was all this weekend was about.
it was a "news-free" event didn't mean we couldn't come up with
anything fun to write about. We've got Dean, Gephardt, Lieberman,
Clark, Kucinich, Kerry, one of guys from *NSYNC, Ralph
Reed (yes, that Ralph Reed), lots of alcohol, lousy food,
some aging hippies, joyous liberals, dismayed centrists, a skater
named Storm, a bunch of photos, and more.
for La Fiesta was Disney's
Coronado Springs Resort, located a short drive from the famous theme
parks. The "resort" was actually sprawling cluster of low-rise hotel
buildings with Spanish names like "Casitas 4." Casitas,
presumably, is the Spanish word meaning a brightly-painted concrete
building filled with tiny, drab rooms.
AT THE MEDIA
"I'm from NBC
News. Do you have our press passes," asked the man.
"Which of your
reporters will be covering our convention," replies the friendly
woman working at the table.
"No one. We'll
just be sending the feed back and they'll decide what to do with
happens when you cancel the straw poll.
IN THE CONVENTION CENTER
up and down the seemingly endless hallways of the huge convention
center. The Dean folks had a room inside operating as a temporary
office -- generating a large buzz of activity as folks constantly
wandered in to collect their t-shirts, posters, and signs. Outside
the Dean room, a few Kerry supporters with signs took turns walking
sullenly past the Dean room every few minutes.
the opposite end of the building, Kerry had a similar room open.
The only difference: there was no visible activity. Nothing except
for the few dejected Kerry sign-carriers who came and went from
their long walks to the Dean room.
A Florida political
gadfly and perennial candidate was continuing his year-long campaign
to purportedly draft Hillary Clinton for President -- but it really
seemed to be just an effort to sell campaign buttons and stickers.
He stood near a heavily trafficked area -- wearing a tie-dyed shirt
and a Hillary rubber mask that looked almost nothing like Hillary.
The guy held a tattered, scribbled sign touting a fantasy ticket
of Hillary and Wesley Clark. Most delegates ignored him.
A young guy
in a sports coat walked around holding a Dennis Kucinich sign. His
dark hair was streaked with dyed blond highlights and he sported
a small "soul patch" beard under his lip. He was the first Kucinich
volunteer I'd seen who appeared to be (a) fairly normal, and (b)
professionally dressed. The others seemed to be leftovers from the
recent anti-FTAA protests in Miami and/or all of the other anti-whatever
protests that became the perpetual aging hippie road show -- in
the place of the old Grateful Dead tours -- ever since Jerry Garcia
delegate badge identified him as "Storm" -- which was exactly the
kind of name you'd expect from a supporter of Kucinich's combo message
of 1960s liberalism and mystical New Age themes. Then again, I also
expected to run into other Kucinich backers with names like Windspirit,
Does the Kucinich
campaign have a press schedule of events, like the others had distributed
"A press schedule?
Well, we don't usually plan things," said Storm.
What do you
"I like Kucinich
a lot, but the whole campaign operation is pretty amateur. It's
embarrassing. They're kind of making it up as they go along. I'll
mention it later when we get together to discuss what we want to
do tomorrow." As he speaks, an attractive young woman walks by and
Storm's eyes briefly follow.
How did you
get involved with Kucinich?
"I looked up
all the candidates online and really liked what he had to say. You
know, people keep coming up to me all day telling me they really
like Kucinich's message, but that they aren't supporting him because
they think he can't win the nomination."
Have you ever
been involved in politics before?
the only thing I ever did in politics was my own campaign for Student
Trustee when I was at the University of Connecticut. This is the
first time I'm involved with anyone else's campaign for anything
-- but politics is really what floats my boat."
Dems wandered around at the outdoor reception. Cash bar. Very little
food. Some delegates -- mainly senior citizens -- quickly grabbed
what little food there was.
Chairman Scott Maddox circulated through the crowd. He'd give two
fiery speeches -- his favorite style -- before the convention was
over. But, for tonight, this was just a cocktail party. At one point,
the Wesley Clark folks quickly marched through the crowd carrying
signs. Sixty seconds later, they're done with their little show.
The Kucinich folks came through next with a loud, spirited group
of sign-carriers -- an event that also ended in less than a minute.
It really wasn't a big patio area, so it didn't take long for the
clusters of ten or twenty folks to do their quick, circular parades.
All in all,
a rather dull event -- and I was getting hungry.
ended and -- as I had nothing to eat so far -- I headed over to
the nearby hospitality suites scheduled to open in a few minutes
at 8 pm. I quickly see that the first one (sponsored by Congressman
Jim Davis) was already filled with seniors who apparently arrived
thirty minutes early and ate everything. The one next door -- sponsored
by past and future Gov hopeful Daryl Jones -- repeated an identical
scene. "They got here half an hour ago and ate everything," said
an apologetic Jones aide.
Okay, the Alex
Penelas for US Senate hospitality suite seemed more promising. Again,
no remaining food -- but an uncrowded open bar. I found Storm at
the Penelas party -- and he was wearing a Penelas sticker. Storm
explained he wasn't supporting Penelas -- and didn't like how Penelas
and the police in Miami handled the FTAA protesters a week ago --
but he's here for the free alcohol. Mike -- one of my fellow Vermont
Law grads who works near my office -- joined us, and the three of
us finished our drinks.
We decided to
go and -- gasp! -- purchase dinner at the cavernous Disney
restaurant down the hall. As we walked there, I saw a cart of deserts
being wheeled down the hall to one of the parties. A small group
of seniors -- having innately sensed the siren call of free food
-- quickly closed in on it even as the cart continued to move. Some,
like sharks in a hungry pack, darted out and grabbed at the small
treats as they rolled by.
The food in
the Disney restaurant was over-priced and kinda sucked. But at least
we had something to eat before a night of drinking.
Mike wore a
Dean button. He told Storm that he liked a lot of what Kucinich
says. "See," said Storm, his eyes rolling up in disgust. "That's
what everyone says to me."
On the way out,
as we paid for our meals, Storm produced a Disney employee -- "cast
member" in Disney-speak -- ID card to get his discounted price.
It turns out Storm works as an extreme skater, performing halfpipe
shows at one of the Disney parks. He added, though, that he wants
to go to law school in the future. He also has a girlfriend -- a
grad student -- but she isn't at the convention.
I asked if the
name Storm was real or a nickname. He pulled out his drivers license.
Yup, it actually was his legal first name.
Since we were
still in the convention center building, we strolled back to the
Penelas party. The bar was still going so the three of us were happy.
That's when we met Lisa (not her real name, as you'll quickly see
why) and her Mom. Lisa had clearly been drinking for a while. Attractive
and in her early twenties, Lisa was holding a drink in her hand
as she talked to us.
find it a bit awkward to be here in the Penelas suite while wearing
a button for one of his rivals? Lisa responded by staring blankly
back at us. "What do you mean," she asks. Her eyes were glassy and
her speech a bit slurred. "I don't even like Alex Penelas," she
added -- not aware that the candidate she was bad-mouthing now stood
just five feet away.
Her Mom -- who
wasn't drunk -- was at her side and laughed along with Lisa's drunken
observations. Within the first five minutes, we learned from the
chatty Lisa that she "was born Jewish, but then I became kinda an
atheist, but I'm not really into all that religious stuff." Storm
added that he's a Buddhist. "I really want to be a Buddhist sometimes,
but I also think studying Kaballah would be cool," said Lisa.
bar closed at 10 pm. Lisa and her Mom wandered off. So did the three
of us. Time to hit the Building Trades hospitality suite in the
next building. Big crowd there. We helped ourselves to another round
of drinks (or two). When Mayor Penelas showed up, Storm tried to
persuade him to do a shot. "I think he's gonna do a shot a Jager
with me," he says with a grin. Nope. Penelas glided through the
room, shook some hands, then was off to his next stop. Labor folks
came up to Storm -- seeing his Kucinich button -- and told him how
much they liked what Kucinich stands for, but say that they are
supporting Gephardt (or Dean, or whomever).
When the labor
party started to die out an hour later, off went our now expanded
entourage in search of the next party. We heard there was a Caribbean
Caucus party -- we wandered around looking for it -- but it appeared
to have already ended. Storm saw a leaflet for a party on the next
We found the
party. It was hosted by Equality Florida, the leading gay rights
advocacy group in the state. It was only when Storm saw the brochures
on the bar that he realized the nature of the group. He was fine
with that. Besides, this was by far the best open bar we found all
evening: premium labels, lots of choices.
After a while
there, a gray-haired gentleman and his thirty-something boyfriend
came over to chat up Storm. He disappeared with them for two minutes
as they gave him a tour of the suite. "They've got a nice hot tub
back there that they just showed me," he said on his return. "You
know, I'm committed to Kucinich -- but I'm just not that committed
to helping Kucinich."
We split up
for the night. But, shortly before, Storm explained his frustration
with the Kucinich campaign: "We'll meet to talk. People will sit
around saying 'We should have done this' or 'We should have done
that' but no one is really organizing anything. I just got to make
it through the rest of the evening without them finding me so I
won't have to sit through another one of those meetings."
AS DINNER THEATER
The FDP's convention
press spokesman gave us our schedules at the Saturday morning press
briefing. We're told that the ongoing blizzard in the Northeast
could delay arrival of some of the candidates, so that schedules
may be slightly adjusted throughout the day. He also described the
"exciting" candidate Q&A sessions scheduled for the various
meal events. "It will be a fun, roll-up-your-sleeves format -- people
will be eating." Sounds
like the candidates had been demoted to the dinner theater circuit.
were all setting up their tables in their respective assigned areas
in the hallway immediately outside the convention floor Saturday
morning. There was trouble brewing between the Kerry and Kucinich
camps. While each campaign set up, some Kerry people complained
that Kucinich posters were on the Kerry part of the wall. The Kucinich
people responded that some Kerry boxes had encroached on their side
of the floor. A Kerry volunteer loudly paced off exaggerated steps
and announced that his campaign was correct. A Kucinich person (right)
produced a tape and the two sides measured. Kucinich won. The Kerry
campaign must really
have reached a new low when they started fighting with the Kucinich
folks over four extra inches of floor space.
SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT SOME MORE PINS
campaign set up a large map and invited people to place pins in
the map to show where each one lived. Definitely an idea that sounded
better in concept than execution. By mid-morning (left), there were
thirteen pins on the map. By late in the day, the total peaked at
eighteen. Probably not the message they intended to convey.
Storm was at
the Kucinich table and handed me a printed schedule of eight events
over the two days of the convention. Apparently he attended the
late night meeting, letting me know he got only ninety minutes of
sleep because of the meeting and the early morning prep work for
today's busy day. The concept of organization has seemingly come
to the Kucinich campaign.
LET THE GRUMBLING
A top national
official with a rival campaign started griping to me about Howard
Dean. He told me it was "offensive" that the Dean campaign paid
$50,000 for the right to bring a thousand extra guests onto the
convention floor later during Dean's speech.
An FDP spokesman
responded: "That's ridiculous. All campaigns had the same opportunities.
They're just spinning."
Back to the
rival campaign guy: "The Dean campaign is not grassroots -- it's
astroturf. It's not real. His support was bought today with a $50,000
payment to the party." You know, he added, the Dean campaign got
a copy of the delegate list one month before the FDP made copies
available to everyone -- and they were the only ones able to contact
everyone. "That's how the party decided to play it here," he grumbled.
The FDP spokesman
gave a complicated explanation as to how this happened -- but this
complaint appeared to be essentially accurate.
At the opening
session of the convention, the delegates were shown a video tribute
to a young College Democrat activist and military reservist who
died fighting in Iraq a few months ago. Three minutes into the video,
I spotted Storm leaving in disgust. "I had to walk out of there.
That was disgusting -- it was like a tribute to imperialism. They
said he died fighting for freedom. What freedom was he fighting
for? He died fighting for imperialism. Is this a Republican Convention?
It was sickening me," he fumed.
Didn't you think
the point was to show that Democrats -- like Republicans -- are
also loyal Americans who are willing to fight for this country?
"He wasn't fighting
for this country. He was fighting for oil."
So, have you
anyone over to Kucinich yet?
"No -- but ask
me again around 3:30 this afternoon."
was the first candidate to speak to the convention. He gave a good
speech, filled with lots of his stock lines, and drew lots of applause.
Many elected officials and union leaders are backing Gephardt --
giving him the appearance of being the main establishment opponent
to Dean. Still, the Gephardt campaign projected the moribund feel
of a "last hurrah."
At his post-speech
Q&A session, a robotic Gephardt manages to go on for minutes
with endless answers to everything. He -- like all the candidates
-- talks on and on about how "important" Florida is, even though
Florida's primary seemingly comes a week too late in the primary
season to matter. I grabbed Gephardt on the way out for a quick
question about whether he would support a change in the DNC rule
that guarantees Iowa and New Hampshire their "first-in-the-nation"
status so that other "important" states -- like Florida -- could
have a turn at going first. Hmm ... that gave him a choice of annoying
voters there or annoying voters here. Gephardt glared at me, pursed
his lips, then tersely replies: "That's a position that the party
has to determine." I tried to follow-up with another question, but
he turned his back and started moving away.
the back of the press room, I noticed Storm was there -- only now
he wore a red press badge (left). When I found him after the press
conference, I saw it was a Student Press badge. Then I noticed he
also sported a yellow Convention Staff Volunteer badge. "I have
my sources," he mischievously explained.
A voting machine
manufacturing company from Missouri -- Populex -- had one of their
machines set up in the front corner of the room reserved for the
post-speech candidate press availabilities. The company was here
because they were originally going to be the folks who ran the now-cancelled
straw poll for the FDP. Still, they were here touting their combo
touch-screen/optical scan ballot devices. They carefully positioned
their corporate signs on the side wall and lined up brochures so
they would be in the camera shots when Gephardt used the machine.
They were very hopeful -- because the wife of one of the Populex
guys had once worked for Gephardt -- that he'd take the three steps
from the podium and pretend to vote for himself in a non-existent
It didn't happen.
Gephardt never went near the machine.
In fact -- by
the time Joe Lieberman became the final candidate to use the room
the next morning -- every candidate managed to come and go without
getting near the thing.
speech went on in the convention hall, the real excitement took
place off the floor. Loud chants of "No G-O- P! No G-O-P!" drew
attention. Hey, whatever was causing the commotion would likely
be more interesting than a canned speech. At the center of the shouting
was former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed (right), surrounded
by a phalanx of angry Democrats. They quickly pressured Reed into
leaving the building and answer media questions outside.
-- now the Southeastern States Regional Chair of the Bush campaign
-- said he had crashed the convention "to provide equal time for
events the place where you get equal time for the Bush message?
"Yes, of course,
but we wanted equal time here to this message of anger, pessimism,
protest, and personal attacks on the President. I'd invite any Democrat
to do same at a Republican event if they have similar concerns --
not that they'd be any more warmly welcomed there, but they're welcome
For equal time,
here was Reed's soundbite: "It's a McGovern-Mondale message in there:
I'll raise your taxes and peace at any price in the war on terrorism."
Do you think
Dean was talking about you last week -- and the themes you helped
pioneer in past races -- when he said that Dems can win Southern
states if they could get the debate moved away from the "God, gays
and guns" topics and instead talked about the economic, health care
and education issues "that really matter"?
in a way that would have done Claude Raines proud in Casablanca
("I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in this establishment.").
Reed said he was "profoundly disappointed" and "offended" both personally
"and as a Southerner" by Dean's comments. He also added that Dean
"doesn't understand or isn't listening" to recent Republican campaign
messages because the GOP doesn't campaign on any of those issues
But wasn't it
true that US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) -- not Dean -- was the first
to use that same phrase? Didn't Inhofe repeatedly say in 1994 that
he'd keep winning elections so long as campaigns were about "God,
gays and guns"? And -- before you think this Inhofe quote came from
some liberal source -- the quote came from the conservative Washington
Times newspaper (11/4/94).
is a friend of mine. I don't that know that he ever said that but
-- if he did -- I don't agree with him."
aide Zephyr Teachout: "Howard Dean is very pleased that Ralph Reed
is offended by our message."
AUDITIONS FOR *NSYNC
For those who
know about the basic history of the various pop "boy bands" in recent
years -- New Kids, *NSYNC, O-Town, etc. -- you know that there seems
to be a certain formula to them. There are usually four or five
young guys: the cute one, the rebellious one, the gay ... umm ...
make that the sensitive one, the fat one, and the talented one.
Kerry wanted to add "the really old one" to the mix. The most amusing
leaflet of the convention was the one from the Kerry campaign that
read: "Sen. John Kerry invites you to a meet-n-greet with special
guest Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSYNC." Because, of course, when you
think of boy bands, John Kerry immediately comes to mind. Also notice
the hip new spelling of "meet-n-greet" too!
-- the Kerry folks all referred to Kirkpatrick as as "Chris" --
was dressed in a full-length black leather jacket and dark shades.
It was an outfit Chris kept wearing inside, even during the luncheon
forum with Kerry.
Today was apparently the first time Kerry and Chris (left) ever
met. As Kerry headed into the luncheon, staffers pulled Chris over
to Kerry's side. "C'mon pal, let's do this," says Kerry to his new
sidekick as he grabbed Chris' sleeve and they headed into the ballroom.
Also not previously
reported: It turned out that a Kerry staffer used to be a Mousketeer
several years ago with some of Chris' friends and got him to do
the favor for Kerry. It helped that Chris lived nearby in Orlando.
Kerry -- in turn -- returned the favor by making a plug during the
luncheon about "protecting intellectual property" (translation:
I'll go after you folks who trade music files online).
I managed to
slip through the crowd to Chris to ask him a question as the luncheon
breaks up. Have you ever endorsed any candidate before?
anyone before. This is my first time."
What is it that
you like about Senator Kerry?
At that moment,
protective Kerry staffers stepped between Chris and me and abruptly
ended the interview. "Chris isn't here to answer any media questions
today," said the aide. "Just pictures today."
I noticed Storm
also was blocked by the same folks a few moments later when -- pretending
to be a reporter from Teen People -- he tried to ask Chris
if the boys had Kerry in mind while they were performing any of
the five-minute "meet-n-greet", Chris explained he must leave for
"another meeting." Kerry leaned toward Chris, placed his hand on
Chris' shoulder, and said: "Great to have you here, pal ... let's
get together again soon." They're going to be hanging together?
I asked Kerry
Deputy Campaign Manager Marcus Jadotte to name Kerry's favorite
NSYNC song. Answer: "Bye, Bye, Bye -- the one he's going
to play for George W. Bush on election night."
Well, if Kerry
is elected, will he ensure that *NYSNC bandmate Lance Bass will
finally get to go into space?
Kerry certainly plans to work on making that happen," said Jadotte.
Clark arrived at the convention Saturday afternoon, the most exciting
thing his campaign offered to delegates was the opportunity to have
a photo taken with a life-sized cardboard version of Clark. Well,
to say "life-sized" was a stretch. The cardboard Clark was actually
taller by a few inches than the more diminutive real-life version.
Lisa -- the
drunken girl from the night before -- was back. I found her in the
hallway chatting with Storm and Mike. She was busy telling them
that she "wasn't drunk at all last night." Then she announced that
-- if we were wondering -- she wasn't a real blond. She asked Storm
about his new press badge and he joked that he was covering the
convo for Teen People. Suddenly, she bursts to life again.
"People magazine? I've got a Ben and JLo story for you.
Ben like, almost one time, like, hit me with his car once. They
have a place near me in Miami Beach, and I was walking and he, like,
almost hit me, and he, like, hit the brakes and I looked up and
it was Ben, and I was like, 'No you don't.' Oh, oh, and then this
one time, like, with JLo, they closed the Lucky shop on Lincoln
Road just so JLo could shop there alone and that was, like, so wrong
'cuz she's not better than anyone else ..." It just kinda continued
on like that. We tried to ignore her a bit by shifting back to political
stuff. When I made a joke to Storm that his candidate has a section
of his official Congressional website devoted to his favorite polka
music -- I'm not making this up (click
here and see for yourself) -- Lisa perked back up. "The Hokey
Pokey? I love the Hokey Pokey," she squealed. Then she starts performing
"You put your butt in, you put your butt out, you put your butt
in and you shake it all about" while she shook her butt inches from
our crotches. Another young female delegate -- this one with a very
low cut top -- stopped by and chats with Storm. When the two girls
leave, he says of the low-cut girl: "Now that is my type -- I've
got to try to find her later tonight."
The Kerry campaign
distributed orange foam Nerf balls and plastic whistles with his
name emblazoned across them. I asked the guy handing them out what
the balls were supposed to symbolize. "Maybe it means that Kerry
has the balls to be President -- but I'm not sure that's the official
line," he says. Kerry, for his part, gave his speech with a better
delivery than I ever remembered from the past.
THE DENNIS KUCINICH ZOMBIES
Clark arrived at the convention and got a nice welcome outside.
On the way back
in, I saw Storm at the Kucinich table. With the exception of Storm,
all the Kucinich people were holding cardboard Kucinich facemasks.
The masks all had the eyes cut out, which made the cutout eye areas
look blackened -- resembling the zombies in the 28 Days Later
horror flick. Some wore eyeglasses over the masks. A woman in a
dress wore one, too, giving her the look of a Kucinich zombie in
are freaks. I am so embarrassed by them sometimes," said Storm.
As he said this,
two of the supporters added red feathered boas to their outfits.
A minute later, one supporter started up playing the guitar and
another pulled out a tambourine. They're joined by a person playing
a washboard, another on a drum, someone with percussion sticks,
and soon whistles and other instruments.
into his pocket and pulled out a pink plastic kazoo. "This is about
to get really f***ing embarrassing. They gave all of us these kazoos
so we could give Dennis a kazoo welcome when he arrives from the
airport. We're all supposed to play When the Saints Go Marching
In on the kazoo," he said with exasperation, above the growing
cacophanous sound. "And they wonder why people don't take us seriously."
Soon supporters pulled out their kazoos and joined the other instruments.
Some of the people even seemed to know the songs they tried to play.
For others -- possibly tone deaf -- it didn't seem to matter. But
they all apparently had a good time.
"Hey, I just
found out that Dennis is vegan," Storm told me. "That is so cool.
I'd really like to sit down and talk with him about it sometime.
I used to be vegan for about five years -- but then I got really
sick and gave it up."
He may clean
up nicely, but Storm definitely fit in well with the Kucinich camp.
Clark was delivering his speech to the convention, the Kucinich
folks mistakenly thought it was time for Kucnich's entrance. Never
mind that Kucinich wasn't anywhere to be seen ... or that Howard
Dean had just walked by them to the holding room because he was
next to speak. They believed it was suddenly time to start their
demonstration for their candidate's grand entrance. They started
playing again -- drums, whistles, kazoos, etc. -- and formed a ragtag
cluster of about fifty folks that began marching forward. They flung
open a side door and started onto the convention floor ... only
to see that Clark was still speaking. Their music abruptly stopped
and they awkwardly withdrew from the floor. One of the "DJK" folks
-- as some of them like to refer to their candidate -- walked up
to an FDP staffer and asked when were they supposed to start their
Kucinich entrance. They were told he goes on after Dean.
later, some of them waiting in the hallway are ready to start up
again -- the noise from them starts to rise again -- until one of
them walks up to me and asked if Dean was finished yet. No, I explained,
he hadn't even started yet. "That's still Clark speaking on stage."
Back out into
the hallway again for the DJK'ers. About 45 minutes later they got
it right on the third try and correctly entered with their candidate.
In fact, their ranks swelled to about a hundred by the time they
marched in to the strains of John Lennon's Imagine.
of the different entrances around the convention floor, the bused-in
Dean supporters lined up with their signs. Most of them were from
pro-Dean labor unions. The music rose on the loudspeakers and the
Dean entrance started. They really flooded the hall with thousands
of supporters -- filling all the seats and aisles -- and clearly
dwarfed the demonstrations put on in support of any of the other
Dean did his
now well-rehearsed act. Unlike
the others, he came out without a coat. At the podium, before starting
his speech, he rolled up his sleeves. Then he lets loose with all
the lines his supporters wanted to hear. He slammed Bush for "race
baiting" with quotas, and for the Iraq War. He went on to hit all
the hot buttons: labor unions, health care, education, gay rights,
Most of the
crowd were on their feet screaming in support of Dean long before
he and his supporters exited as the upbeat Walking on Sunshine
tune blared from the sound system.
Of course, individual
reactions depended upon whom you asked.
was a bought room. It was disgusting. For as little as we spent
on this, I'm perfectly happy with how we did here today compared
with Dean," fumed one rival campaign operative, who didn't want
to be named.
"This was pretty
cool. It's not like I'm supporting Dean -- but his whole thing was
really cool," said Storm.
Lots of delegates
left after Dean departed -- which left Kucinich with a half-empty
hall for his speech.
So, any converts
to Kucinich yet?
Dennis's speech was great. I was absolutely enthralled by it. And,
yes, there were converts. I was finally able to win over a few people
Hall, Woody Allen told the joke about two old ladies at a Catskills
resort who kvetched about the meals. One complained: "What
bad food!" "Yes," her friend agreed, "and such small portions, too."
Fittingly, that joke pretty accurately described all the meals served
at the convention.
After a nap,
I made it back just in time for the dinner Q&A session featuring
Dean and Kucinich. Clark had also agreed to be there, but he ducked
out to catch an early flight to Virginia.
I asked Kucinich if he would run as the Natural Law Party nominee
if he failed to win the Democratic nomination, he gave an evasive
response. "I want to make the Democratic Party a viable second party.
I believe the convention will be an open convention. I think that
we'll all have some delegates and the party should nominate me if
they want to win in November. I can win this election by appealing
to people in the Natural Law Party, the Green Party, the Reform
Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Independents. That will give
me the extra votes to give us a victory. Any Democrat can get 48%,
49% of the national vote, but only a Democrat like me who appeals
to third parties can make up the difference needed to win. I'm running
as a Democrat, I'm running to make the party relevant, and I'm running
But, if you
somehow don't win the Democratic nomination, would you consider
running as a third party candidate in November against the Democratic
"If the Democratic
Party wants to win, they're going to nominate me," Kucinich replied.
When I talked
to Dean, he said he supported maintaining the protected "first"
status for Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprising coming from a
guy leading in both those states.
(YES, AGAIN )
Storm -- who
had crashed the Dean-Kucinich dinner with his press badge -- came
over to me. He told me that Lisa found him during the pre-dinner
caucuses and broke into tears. Seems that the boy she really liked
dumped her because she got very drunk at an event and really embarrassed
him -- but she still had a big crush on that boy, who now won't
speak to her. She also told Storm that he wasn't at all her type.
Storm also mentioned
that he had never met Kucinich. Since he'd become a central figure
in this article, I arranged with a Kucinich staffer to have Storm
meet Kucinich at their post-dinner rally.
After the dinner,
I tried to find the courtyard with the Kucinich rally among the
maze of walkways running between various buildings. It felt like
I was in some odd maze. I ran into other reporters -- and some Kucinich
volunteers -- who were also unable to find the rally. Was it held
in the well lit courtyard? No. It was back behind the building,
in a darkened patch. Kucinich was apparently standing in the middle
of the crowd of thirty of so volunteers. He's a short guy, so we
couldn't see him at all. There was no sound system, so we couldn't
hear him well, either.
The event ran
on and on. I asked Kucinich's aide if she's going to be ending the
event soon. "Oh no," she answered. "To Dennis, going to bed is surrendering."
We waited some
more. Storm had already achieved his main goal of the day of recruiting
a few more DJK supporters. Now he turned his thoughts to his secondary
goal. Storm said that -- after the picture is taken -- he wanted
to go off in search of "the booby girl." She was supposed to be
at the Hispanic Caucus hospitality suite.
Aren't you interested
in any of the Kucinich campaign girls?
too ... umm ... I don't get that not-shaving-the-legs thing," he
We heard applause
and -- thinking the event was breaking up -- we moved back towards
the center of the group. Kucinich was just getting his second wind.
He loudly announced triumphantly that he just finished a cell phone
call from a supporter in Los Angeles and that -- at whatever obscure
event he was talking
about -- "We just placed second in their voting this evening!" Someone
in the crowd loudly shouts out "Viva Hector Elizondo!" and a cheer
goes up. Don't
ask -- I have no idea who Hector Elizondo is.
As we waited,
Storm asked his vegan question to Kucinich's aide. "Well, it had
to do with an important personal relationship in his life that convinced
him to make that change," she cryptically explained. Storm later
told me he also wanted to ask about Kucinich's involvement in the
Transcendental Meditation movement -- but it was suddenly time for
him to meet Kucinich.
forward and he and Kucinich exchanged brief greetings. I snapped
a quick photo. A moment later, it was all over. Kucinich was talking
to the next person and Storm was on the outside edge of the small
crowd. He didn't even get around to asking his candidate any of
his questions -- but Storm was still happy he finally met him. (Note:
Storm wanted me to explain here that he was operating on just ninety
minutes of sleep over a two-day period when this photo was taken.)
As we walk off,
Pete Seeger folk music started to play from an open hotel room doorway
at the edge of the courtyard.
I wandered off
to the open bars of the hospitality suites again. Storm left in
search of "the booby girl."
GOOD OF A TIME
was Joe Lieberman's time on the convention floor. He spent much
of it talking about the 2000 recount and Florida. He didn't have
a lot of support at the convention, but he is a likable guy. He
mugged, he told jokes, and he seemed to like his time around people.
He started the
press event with a joke that he'd "either answer questions or redeliver
my speech, which ever you prefer." In response to a question about
new polls that showed Dean moving up, he joked that "I have a basic
rule that I only cite polls that I'm doing well in and discount
those I'm not doing well in."
When asked about
any current significance of the 2000 recount -- a topic he endlessly
mentions in speeches -- he earnestly insisted: "I don't dwell on
it." That -- from the man whose campaign distributed "Re-Elect Joe
2004" signs to the delegates this weekend -- elicited smirks from
to a diversity question, he told a story about an elderly Hispanic
female supporter in Arizona who welcomed him to an event with a
hand-lettered sign that read "Viva Chutzpah!" When everyone laughed,
he pointed to a Washington Post reporter and added "Be
sure to credit me with that joke -- not Howard Dean. That was my
not be going anywhere in this race, but seemed to be enjoying the
trip all the same.
On the way out
of the press conference, a senior citizen with a delegate badge
and a press badge stopped Lieberman with this question: "I'm glad
you're here today, but what I really want to know is why isn't Al
Gore -- the person who really should be here today -- here?"
Hmm ... maybe
because he isn't running in 2004!!
I never saw
Storm during any of the Sunday events before the convention ended.
The people who worked at the Kucinich table hadn't seen him, either.
Perhaps, I thought, he achieved his second goal, too.
But, when I
got home Sunday evening, I found a short email from Storm. "Mission
failed," it read.
Hey, one out
of two ain't bad.
Like I wrote
at the start of this article: No real news from this weekend, but
it was a lot of fun.