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June 5, 2006

Which convention did the most damage?

Posted by David Postman at 8:35 AM

With the conventions behind us, the big questions seem to be: Which party did itself the most damage? Where are the divisions greatest? And how does that translate to prospects for November? Both parties' press release machines have tagged the other as the party divided. Commentors here have thoroughly debated the issue and challenged me to declare a winner of sorts in the contest for most dysfunctional party. I'm not sure we know enough to draw those sorts of conclusions.

I know this: Whichever party finds itself in more trouble because of its convention will declare that what happens at conventions doesn't matter come election day.

The Republican and Democratic conventions exposed different sorts of schisms. Take the Republicans first. The big story at their convention was an aggressive anti-illegal immigration plank that went much further than the platform committee had wanted and much further than some Republican candidates and office holders thought necessary. (Or constitutional.)

It's important to remember that when Republicans began talking about immigration, the motion was to oppose automatic citizenship for babies born to all "aliens," legal and illegal. And there was very little dissension among delegates. That motion passed easily on a voice vote. The next vote, to essentially amend the plan to add the word "illegal" was closer. But again, very little opposition was heard.

The grassroots of the Republican Party seems united in what it believes and in what it wants its party to declare. The division comes between those delegates and the party leadership, including the GOP's statewide elected officials, its candidate for the Senate and its president. Senate candidate Mike McGavick got an overwhelming endorsement from the convention. We don't know what would have happened if Democrats took a similar vote on their Senate candidates, but opposition to Cantwell in the form of signs and buttons and T-shirts was much more obvious than anything McGavick faced the week before.

McGavick has been open about his disagreement with the party's immigration plank. And no doubt he will have to explain that throughout the campaign as Democrats remind voters, particularly Hispanic voters, of what Republicans believe about one of the hottest issues of the year.

Democrats face a different problem. There are those who laugh at the party's support for a Department of Peace. But that will not present the same problems for Democratic candidates as Republicans face in distancing themselves from the GOP immigration plan. It's a one-liner that I'm sure we'll hear from Republicans on the stump. But it does not undermine party leaders' sentiments on a major issue of the day or anger a major voting bloc.

The Democrats are divided in the grass roots. Votes Saturday were often close. Tempers and emotions were evident, particularly at the end when debate was cut off and many issues postponed until later in the year. It was evident, too, as Cantwell waited to speak to the convention and faced a noisy demonstration by anti-war delegates and supporters of one of her primary opponents, Mark Wilson.

The war is the wedge driving Democrats apart. The convention didn't do anything to reduce the tension. Pelz tried with a speech declaring that Iraq is "not our war" and urging Democrats to reserve their anger for Republicans. It didn't work. The anti-war forces in the party continue to focus on Cantwell.

This from Chad Shue, who was a delegate and writes on The Left Shue:

Unfortunately for both Pelz and Cantwell, Iraq is much too large to sweep under a rug or hide behind a curtain. ... We need to support a candidate who is willing to not only take ownership but who will take the lead in working to resolve the one issue that drives all other issues before us in the coming years.

At washblog we turn again to Authur Ruger who continues to enunciate the feelings of liberal Democrats who at best will be reluctant supporters of Cantwell's come November:

The picture in the fawning congratulatory blogs covering the state convention looked to me like a coronation picture for Senator Cantwell this weekend.

Andrew Villeneuve who live-blogged the convention for the Northwest Progressive Institute blog has the upbeat view, saying "I've never seen fellow Democrats more united in their resolve to change our country."

I'd be interested in hearing from other people who were delegates to either convention on how they think their party did.

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