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June 2, 2006

Democratic Convention

Posted by David Postman at 8:17 PM

It's clear the story line of the Democratic convention is Maria Cantwell and the war. In Yakima the Cantwell people have volunteers in Cantwell T-shirts, a confetti cannon for her appearance tomorrow — Memo to Maria's minions: Doesn't a cannon seems awfully militaristic? — and a photo op this evening where all the state's top Democrats endorsed the senator for re-election. In a press release, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-KIRO, called her a "progressive hero."

Bill Clinton will make a video-taped endorsement of Cantwell tomorrow. He was set to be in the state tomorrow but he had to reschedule — for July 31 — fund raisers for Cantwell and McDermott.

Party Chairman Dwight Pelz says the anti-war and anti-Cantwell sentiment peaked a few weeks ago. That would have been about the time that Pelz said Cantwell's position on the war was hurting volunteer recruitment, then essentially retracted that. Others have wandered off the talking points. State Labor Council President Rick Bender said today almost exactly what got Pelz into trouble: "I think she's going to catch a little bit (of grief), but I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference. ... The only thing I worry about is it might make it harder to get people to get out and work for her."

I just got to Yakima so missed the chance to sneak into the Democrats' closed-door strategy sessions earlier today. But my colleague Ralph Thomas did, and he has kindly shared his notebook with me. And he saw clear frustration with Cantwell among the base. A panel discussion billed as "The Bush Record -- Talking points for Democrats" turned into an open mic session for delegates who painted party leaders, especially Cantwell, as feeble alternatives to Bush and the Republicans.

Edward Mays, a delegate from Seattle, said Democrats should use the convention to hold Cantwell's feet to the fire. "This is the only chance we have," said Mays, wearing a Mark Wilson T-shirt, one of two anti-war Democrats running against Cantwell in the primary. "Because once she gets the nomination, it's going to be back to business as usual."

"When is the Democratic Party going to stand up and talk about our values," he said later in an interview. "What are we afraid of? Bush is down to 29 percent."

Some, though, didn't like the trash-talking, even behind closed doors. "The worst thing we can do is bad-mouth another Democrat," said Bob Wettleson, a delegate from Mason County. "The worst Democrat in the world is still better than any Republican."

Some anti-war delegates said they were going to their hotel rooms tonight to paint signs to protest Cantwell during her speech tomorrow. Tonight Cantwell got a rousing ovation from delegates before she gave brief remarks -- none of which had anything to do with the war.

I don't know if it is a sign of the anti-war forces losing steam in their efforts to pressure Cantwell, but they talk more and more about just wanting to see some public contrition from her. No one seems to think she's going to suddenly switch positions.

"The goal here is to put pressure on her to admit she made a mistake," said John Donoso, a first-time delegate from Bellingham. "You can't have a constructive policy debate without admitting that this was a huge mistake. ... Sooner or later she's going to have to talk about it."

My guess is if she does, it'll be later than Sunday when the convention closes.

Cantwell and party leaders would like to see her get strong support this weekend. It makes for better news ...quot;from their perspective ...quot; and helps excite the base. But, and no offense intended to the hundreds of delegates who have given up their weekend to be here, it probably doesn't matter a lot.

Cantwell didn't get a very warm reception at the state convention in 2000 when she was running in the primary against Deborah Senn. Senn had union endorsements and had been campaigning longer. The convention hall seemed overwhelmingly in favor of Senn. The coveted base everyone worries about now was clearly for Senn. It was as if everyone in the room would vote for her, though in the end Cantwell won the nomination with almost three times as many votes as Senn.

In other convention news, Pelz announced at the banquet that the debt has been retired from the 2004 governor's election legal fight. Party spokesman Viet Shelton said that when Pelz took over the party this year more than $2 million had already been paid to lawyers and there was another $525,000 left unpaid. Of that, the party paid $300,000 and the rest was written off by the lawyers, he said.

For the convention-obsessed, check out Andrew at the Northwest Progressive Instutiute's Official Blog.

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