Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Truman update

My story on last week's Democratic doings will be in Thursday's Outpost, but as always a few observations didn't make the paper. Among them:

1. The Democrats have an impressive-looking batch of attorney general candidates. Steve Bullock, John Parker and Mike Wheat all used their two-minute slots to make fairly convincing cases for themselves. I particularly liked it when Parker said that he had won his first election in Billings: as president of his fourth-grade class at Sandstone Elementary School. I don't know the Republican candidates, so I'm not saying that these guys are better, but I have to think that Democrats will feel good about their chances no matter how the primary turns out.

2. This was my first time to see Jim Hunt, the Democratic candidate for Denny Rehberg's U.S. House seat. Nobody thinks Hunt can win, including me, but he made a stronger case for himself than I would have expected. Both the rhetoric ("I'm the guy who's going to beat Denny Rehberg") and the jokes ("Anybody who thinks I'm going to be intimidated in this race better think again because I have two teenage daughters") were pretty predictable. But he had a more forceful manner than I would have expected, and he seemed ready to take Rehberg on in the areas where I think the incumbent is most vulnerable: his failure to take a stand against President Bush on issues of civil liberties, executive authority and war-making power.

3. The only candidate who got cut off in mid-speech was Robert Candee, the other Democrat running for Rehberg's House seat. I didn't have a timer, so I'm not sure whether he really took a lot more time than other speakers, but Democrats definitely didn't appear to have much interest in hearing him out. He used part of his time to talk about a 1987 lawsuit he filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I didn't quite see the point. Apparently, neither did the Democrats.

4. One of the first times Brian Schweitzer made an impression on me was at a Truman Dinner here before he was elected governor. He donned an apron and walked from table to table, refilling coffee cups. He still seems to enjoy himself in public about as much as anybody I have ever seen. When he saw me taking notes, he hollered, "Write something nice about me."

"No," I hollered back.

"Then write something unusual about me," he said.

I'm afraid I failed him on both counts.

5. It was fun listening to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar polish their pitches before a small crowd at Barack Obama headquarters before Saturday night's main event. Freudenthal seemed profoundly comfortable in front of the small group: funny, self-effacing, articulate. After listening to him for a couple of minutes, I realized that I would never again have to wonder how a Democrat gets elected to high office in a conservative stronghold like Wyoming: You just have to be Dave Freudenthal.

I thought he outshone Klobuchar in front of the small group, but she came into her own at the evening event: full of anecdotes, passionate, sharply on target. Dems loved her, and no wonder. I also enjoyed seeing how she honed her material: I heard her tell one anecdote three times, once to me and the governor, once to the Obama staffers and volunteers and once at the Truman Dinner. It was new material, apparently, that she had come up with on the airplane flight, and she was working to nail it down.

6. People wonder what's wrong with Hillary Clinton, but it isn't hard to figure. The two most gifted politicians I have seen in my adult life have been Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She married one and has to run against the other. To hold up as well as she has is quite an achievement.

Word on the campaign trail has been that Bill Clinton is slipping and may be hurting his wife's candidacy. None of that was on display Saturday night. The guy is a master. He started by talking about his last visit to Billings, including the name of the horse he rode when he was here ("Phirepower") and his visit to the Kit-Kat Cafe. He even knew that the Kit-Kat was no longer around -- a tribute to great staff work, or a great memory, or both.

Then he said that speaking last at the four-hour Truman dinner reminded him of the first political speech he ever gave, when he was the last speaker on a long list.

"They introduced everybody in that hall but three people," he said, "and they went home mad."

Then he launched into a 25-minute talk that covered Democratic policies from one of the spectrum to the other, piled high with detail and examples, but never too dry or arcane. Love him or hate him, the guy is a master at what he does.

7. I've been to a couple of Truman Dinners in the past, but none like this. The crowd, the arrangement, the speakers all topped anything I have seen. Most importantly, a sense of confidence seemed to fill the room. Democrats are famous for making the worst of a good situation, and they may manage to do it again. But the mood on Saturday night suggested that they have all the cards in their hands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obama buses people in like a ghost!