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Seattle Times Political Caucus

The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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August 28, 2008 3:23 PM

Commemorating women in politics

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen

Although I am an Obama supporter, as a woman, it was easy to feel the poignancy of the Emily's List event celebrating the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Gathered to commemorate the strength of Democratic women in politics, we were again praising another man at the top of the ticket. It had been oh, so close!

Hillary Clinton was the top draw at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom; she spoke early and eloquently in the line up, in order to accommodate her busy schedule. She took many of the thousands in the crowd with her when she left, obviously some not interested in the rest of the speakers, who included Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama.

A surprise treat was the unscheduled appearance of Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, who was tapped as a last minute speaker when the originally slated governor could not attend. Gov. Gregoire was given the choice responsibility of introducing Michelle Obama, which she did with a forceful endorsement of the Obama/Biden ticket that was fortified by her early support for Obama, including their joint appearance at the Key Arena in Seattle in February. She was able to tell the crowd that she and Michelle had already formed a close working relationship based partly on Michelle's fundraising efforts for her in the state, a relationship that Mrs. Obama emphasized in her own remarks.

Another Washington state point of pride was the appearance of Darcy Burner's picture and bio on the revolving big screen slide show of "Rising Stars" that played repeatedly before the event began. Supported by Emily's List, Darcy is hopeful of unseating Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th District.

My daughter, Elizabeth, and I then took in the general scene along Denver's 16th Street Mall, filled with convention goers and locals alike. Protesters were easy to find, usually attended by a squad of police officers and an audience that treated everything more like a circus sideshow than a political event.

Regarding security: I heard reporters interviewed on Denver radio yesterday say that the security was tighter for the convention than it had been for the Olympics in Beijing. This is easy to believe, as law enforcement is ubiquitous, including bicycle, horse, and motorcycle mounted squads, foot patrols, roving SWAT teams, and rooftop riflemen. It makes you wonder what can’t be seen!

My next report will be after Obama's speech at Invesco Stadium. Hope it lives up to the hype.

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 27, 2008 11:21 AM

Sunburned and weary, a DNC volunteer relishes her work

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen

This morning in Denver I find myself bloodied, burned, sore and weary, and I wasn't anywhere near a protest. The blisters and sunburn are courtesy of 10 hours on my feet under the blazing Denver sun on behalf of the DNC Transportation Special Services team.

Yesterday I joined fellow volunteers and delegates on the downtown shuttle to the Pepsi Center, a 30-minute wait for a 15-minute, six-block ride that got us close enough to walk another six blocks to the perimeter entrance. The trek continued, through security (remove ALL those campaign buttons), around the CNN Grill, until we finally glimpsed our destination, the Pepsi Center. But, no, we kept going, past the arena and the media center until, thankfully, we arrived at Parking Lot F, our Special Services home. It was a journey that left everyone gasping and grasping for water and sandwiches as soon as we found the shade of the volunteer tent, not yet expending a minute doing anything resembling work.

Within minutes, transportation workers were whisked on golf carts to serve as greeters at all of the arena entrances. I was deposited at the one serving both delegates and media, and our group quickly coalesced into a cheerleading gauntlet, greeting everyone (including a bemused James Carville and Donna Brazile), with cheering, clapping, and a hearty "Welcome to Denver!" and "Obama (fist) bumps" were given to anyone sporting one of his buttons (there were lot's of Obama buttons). Outward displays of support for Hillary were less apparent. The DNC has made it clear that this is Obama's party, and those delegates who still support Hillary tend to speak in whispers.

As the convention began, we took a short break before getting a new assignment: parking the cars of the "electeds" - members of Congress and governors arriving for the primetime speeches. The VIP's were deposited at the arena entrance, carefully shielded by a white tent; their cars (mostly black SUV hybrids) were then deposited in our lot by their drivers. This is as close as I got to any politician: moving cars used by Madeline Albright, Walter Mondale and our own Patty Murray (her assigned volunteer driver "loved" Senator Murray, and thoroughly enjoyed ferrying her to many meetings during day). The Secret Service with Jimmy Carter's motorcade told us they would park anywhere they liked. We were chastised by the "parking professionals" not to let it happen again. Right. We'll let you tell that to the guy in the suit with the shades and the State Patrol posse.

The setting sun relieved the heat, the traffic subsided, and I was stuck in a parking lot between the glittering arena that held all of the excitement, and the tent holding off-duty volunteers and the big screen TV showing all of that excitement. Every once in a while I'd hear a big cheer, wonder who was speaking, and then return to asking arriving chauffeurs, "Lot F or Lot VF?"

No shuttle on the return trek home; I walked back to the light rail station at the Colorado Convention Center among throngs of celebrating Democrats. I crashed on the sofa at my parents' house, put up my aching feet, and settled in to catch the analysis and highlights of everything that had just happened a few feet from where I had been standing, but could not see or hear. Would I do it all again? Yep, later this week, toes bandaged and sunscreen in hand.

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 26, 2008 3:14 PM

Conflicting vibrations in Denver

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

When I arrived at Denver International Airport on Monday I was fueled by one hour of sleep and a thirst for information. I had approximately zero knowledge of the city I was entering and about the same level of experience with conventions of any sort. Stepping off the plane I immediately noticed about four young volunteers for the Democrats greeting newcomers to the city with welcome signs and cheery smiles. I grabbed a bottle of water from a store in the airport and glanced at the most prominent headline on the newspaper stand: "TO THE STREETS" was written in large type above a picture of angry protesters waving their fists at the camera. I'm not used to demonstrations generating much news coverage at all, regardless of the amount of people involved, but the paper had obligingly reassured its readers that their number was "much lower than expected."

Waiting for the bus I took in as much as I could. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the air was thick with a kind of bright heat that I'm not familiar with. The horizon was a perfect horizontal line, stretched for miles in all directions without so much as a tree to keep it varied. Lifeless dirt and yellow grass were the only details to a bleak landscape distinguished by its flat idleness. The people standing around my bench made eye contact with one another in a casual fashion Seattle should aspire to. Being several miles from the epicenter of this week's events I couldn't be too sure whether the mood I was reading was representative of the people of Denver or the kind of breed the Democratic National Convention attracts. Confident but politely subdued, the people around me were a mixed bag of young thoughtful metros and graying adults indifferently fiddling with their cell phones.

The airport loudspeakers informed me that the "terror level has been raised to orange," though the significance of this was lost on me as the "terror level" always seems to be above yellow and below red. I discarded the advice to be paranoid and climbed aboard the bus, taking a seat toward the back next to a geeky gentleman looking into a map of Denver. There certainly were a lot of nerds on the bus with me, though they were from a subgroup much more benign than our own khaki-clad computer industry drones, and marginally less socially awkward.

I was soon told by the nice dork to my right that there's a place near the convention center where over a hundred bloggers from across the country will be gathering to tap away at their keyboards throughout the week, for the hefty entrance price of a hundred dollars. It might be worth it to chat with politically minded folk who like to write, but I figured more good would come spending the same amount of money on beer with strangers. A man at the back of the bus loudly talked into his phone, proudly informing everyone there that "his carbon footprint would be zero" thanks to the bicycles provided to delegates for free. I was more impressed by the spectacle out the window, where neatly stacked bales of hay made a pathway from the road to the front of a large white tent. A big sign read "Road to the White House," though the fee charged by the enterprising lad who thought that one up was known only to himself and inquiring minds curious enough to pull over.

Once off the bus I noted the multitude of empty cafes and open parking spaces. Maybe the teams of police and security guards patrolling each block had persuaded consumers to avoid downtown. Or maybe Denver is always dead on Monday afternoons. Three bags in hand, I clumsily walked around the city center looking for a place to rest until a shaggy Greenpeace member made a stab at selling me something.

I tell him $15 a month is too steep a price for saving the planet. He persisted as I steadfastly denied him access to my bank account, almost buckling under the pressure of his sincerity. A loud convoy of unmarked SUVs and police cars whizzed by. We paused as it roared past us, himself mentioning how annoying it's been with the police escorting politicians around the past two days. I asked him if there had been any disruptive protests and he assured me that they commenced the day before and will be going on all week. "Earlier today some guy was yelling at 'homos' down the street with a megaphone," he added. Odd, the thought of a hippie activist on the same block as a deranged bigot, both preying on the same crowd for opposite reasons. He finally let me go under the sole condition that we bump fists in solidarity.

Nearby I found a restaurant with outdoor seating, and umbrellas to protect my pitiful Irish skin from the oppressive sun. I demanded beer at once and soon I was scribbling notes on my legal pad with the kind of zest that comes with cold drinks in an alien environment. A waitress comes over and asks what I'm writing. "My heart is in humor but my mind is in politics. This is an attempt at some kind of synthesis. I will be King one day." She informed me that she also writes, though "mostly foo-foo poetry." In an eager stream of consciousness she tells me that she's an avid Ron Paul supporter and wishes she could go to Minneapolis to see his Rally for the Republic counter-convention like I am and that the recycling bins on every corner are new as of this week as are the surveillance helicopters and that I should go to Pat's on 17th and Market tonight to go play beer pong and take advantage of $6 pitchers. Two drinks later she gave me her number and left me unsure how to proceed.

I met up with my gracious host soon after. Unwilling to spend money on lodging, I had found someone online willing to grant me the use of their couch for free. Once off her shift, we went to her house to drop off my things, and sped off for a late afternoon tour of the city. The waitress from earlier had told me that a group of protesters were going to gather at the Mint and try to levitate it off the ground and shake the coins out of it. Driving by I could see a thick row of bizarre young people in front of the building chanting "Peace, Justice, Freedom" in unison, directing their mantra to the old building itself. Heavily armed police on horseback watched in confusion as the grinning unwashed vainly tried to lift the structure.

Concluding our tour we headed back to the apartment where I collapsed from exhaustion on the couch. After a solid forty second nap I was awakened, springing to attention to head downtown for another whiff of history. The sun was setting, and with helicopters overhead we walked along at a rapid clip. There was a large crowd of pedestrians, perhaps 100 in all, being forcibly pushed down a street perpendicular to our own. Police in black riot gear were forcibly clearing the streets, and not a protester was in sight. We avoided being clubbed or trampled, though the fate of others closer to the hardened boots and clubs was visibly less fortuitous. Resentment rippled through the onlookers and dozens more riot police marched to reinforce their fellow cops.

"Wow. I've never seen that before," remarked my associate.

"What, fascism?" I asked incredulously.

"Well, actually when the Broncos won the Superbowl, there were riots, but not since then."

I imagined that a jubilant outbreak of property destruction would be quite a bit easier to pacify than an ideologically charged angry mob. Either would be more difficult than pushing people around who just happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. In keeping with the authoritarian aesthetic of the hour, storefront after storefront was crowded with police, particularly the Federal Reserve building and the nicer hotels and restaurants. Delegates wearing Obama T-shirts mingled with the locals, both migrating away from the turmoil a few blocks away.

We finally arrived at our intended location, and I took a seat at the bar. Lighting equipment with NBC logos printed on it had been set up in the other room, apparently for use later as they had been left unattended. The bartender had little use for the convention and had the TV set to sports. I scribbled down more notes until the guy sitting next to me decided to make conversation. He worked for a private security firm and was in town for business, also informing me that the police had been clearing the street I passed earlier to make a path for Michelle Obama, all the way from the Westin Hotel to the convention center.

The rest of the evening is something of a haze in my memory now. The locals were happy to talk with me, though as the night progressed their commentary became more slurred and tangential, shifting more from political conversation to base gossip with every passing hour until what was once thoughtful banter descended into the foggy realm of unconscious jabbering. From what I gathered, everyone seemed pleased that the convention was giving them something to talk about, whether they were Democrats, protesters, or hapless pedestrians shoved out of the way of our rulers. These days people hunger for controversy as much as inspiration, and so far the Democratic National Convention is providing all camps with at least one or the other.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 25, 2008 8:46 AM

A "white suburban slacker" takes on the DNC

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser
A quintessential Seattle evening bid me farewell as I prepared for today's journey to Denver. Gentle drizzle will undoubtedly give way to something alien, and with any luck, strange, upon my arrival. The Mile High City has come a long way since its days as a 19th century criminal backwater, an evolution Seattlites can appreciate looking back on their own history of transformation from soggy lumber town to shiny tech center.
Progressive change defines the history of both cities, and will be the theme of this week's Democratic National Convention. Early today I left to see how well it resonates with the people of Denver.

Conflicting vibrations can be felt emanating outward from Colorado. Glib pronouncements of pride and celebration are readily projected by the party faithful while draconian security measures quietly add a more ominous tone to what is supposed to be a purely festive occasion. As opponents of the city's makeshift concentration camp are calling it, the "Gitmo on the Platte" looms large for those of us who remember what happened 40 years ago in Chicago. As does the government "fusion center" set up to integrate surveillance activities in Denver between the Secret Service, U.S. Northern Command, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement. Public demonstrations will be confined to a predetermined area away from the convention center, surrounded by chain-link fence. I doubt the locals appreciate the militarization of their city but I'll have to check with them.

Just how democratic is the Democratic Party? They obviously fear the demos enough to keep them out of sight, lest they spoil the event by waving a sign at a delegate. Or reminding the starry-eyed party optimists that the Democrats in Congress have signed onto virtually everything Bush has ever asked for. War funding continues, as do post-9/11 police state institutions. It has been my contention for the past seven years that Democrats have been the willing collaborators of the Bush administration not only due to their innate cowardice and ideological similarity to the GOP, but also because they understand something that most of us don't: as the American people continue to suffer under the Bush-Democrat alliance, the Republican Party will take the blame, leaving the Democrats to reap the electoral benefits.

It has been in the interest of the Democratic Party to help Bush ruin America.

And Barack Obama's recent choice of Joe Biden as his running mate underscores this principle. Biden, champion of the Jim Crow War on Drugs (that aren't alcohol), eager supporter of the Iraq War from the very beginning, and supporter of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill that made life harder for millions of debtors, exemplifies how committed to change Obama really is. That Biden will help Obama in northern Appalachia, make a great attack dog over the coming months, appeal to older voters, and protect the campaign from accusations that it is weak on experience and national security is beside the point. The choice of Biden demonstrates that Obama cares more about winning than governing. That is the fundamental problem with the Democratic Party today.

So as delegates descend on Denver, congratulating themselves between speeches in a four-day-long exaltation of empty rhetoric, I will abstain from embracing Barack Obama the way so many of my generation have already. He represents an improvement over a long line of fraudulent populists, and that might be reason enough to vote for him. But it isn't enough to replace my frustration with enthusiam.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 24, 2008 3:08 PM

A warm welcome to Denver

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen
Airline passengers arriving in Denver Friday night were greeted by dozens of smiling volunteers in Broncos-orange T-shirts emblazoned with "DNCC Denver '08"; 12 hours later I was wearing one too, decked out in official gear for my tenure as a Transportation Special Services volunteer at the Democratic National Convention.

My daughter and I are in Denver for our annual summer vacation with my parents and extended family, timed this year to coincide with the Democrat's big meet-up. Elizabeth, a sophomore at the University of Washington, and I are the black sheep Dems in a large family of bedrock Republicans (a lot of love, a little understanding), and we're excited to soak up a week of progressive politics in the Mile High City.

Saturday morning I took Denver's efficient light rail train from suburban Littleton; 22 minutes and 11 miles later I was at the Colorado Convention Center, queuing up with hundreds of others to receive our volunteer assignments. I was given the orange shirt of the Transportation Division (yellow for Human Resources, green for Recycling, red for Access Control, etc), and joined my fellow workers for a rousing welcome and pep talk from Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Party strife was not evident in this group of partisans who whooped and cheered at the mention of the Obama-Biden ticket and the historic nature of this convention that will nominate the first African American contender for president of the United States.

My credential allows me access to the Pepsi Center security perimeter, but no further. I'll be working as general concierge, meeting, greeting and assisting delegates and media up to, but not through, the doors to the convention floor. Close, but not close enough - I'll still have to watch the proceedings on one of the televisions provided for volunteers.

This week I'll file reports from the Pepsi Center on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday, the 88th anniversary of the women's right to vote, I'll be at the Emily's List event featuring Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Nancy Pelosi. On Thursday, Elizabeth and I will join the 75,000 filling Invesco Field for Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

In between I'll be taking in the sights and sounds of the convention at large, paying special attention to the nomination drama featuring the Clintons, Hillary's disgruntled followers, and signs of meaningful party unification. Can't wait!

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 20, 2008 2:17 PM

Political ads: Truthful or persuasive?

Posted by Katherine Long

Political ads from the Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire gubernatorial campaigns are filling the airways, both on TV and radio. This ad by the Rossi campaign blasts Gregoire for raising the gas tax, and this one by the Gregoire campaign accuses Rossi of raising gas taxes and more. We asked the Caucus: Are these ads truthful? Do you think they are persuasive? Do you find these kinds of political ads helpful in deciding which candidate to support?

Many Caucus members took time to refute or defend the ads point-by-point -- you can read all of their answers here.

Generally speaking, most Caucus members were less than impressed by these two examples of political ad strategy. "These kinds of political ads do almost nothing except to reinforce the distaste people already have for the candidate they don't plan on voting for," wrote Alex Berezow of Seattle.

Berezow noted that the ads are "practically unverifiable," and he's bothered by "the dishonesty with which politicians manipulate each others' voting records. Is it possible that Rossi voted against funding health care for children? Sure, it's possible. But, what if that health care bill was attached to another bill that was something Rossi wasn't willing to support? Then, he has to vote 'no' on the entire package--including the health care bill. This is a common trick used by most politicians--and it's extremely dishonest."

It's all about the base, wrote Brian Thomas of Renton. "Both ads are designed to stir up anger with base voters and get them motivated. The two biggest motivators in politics are anger and fear. Both ads have a grain of truth in them but only a grain. Both are misleading and disingenuous but that only matters to pundits. Never make the mistake of thinking voters are moved by facts and truth."

Dane Jack Sands of Ballard echoed the words of several other Caucus members who can't imagine why anyone would be swayed by such material. "I know that spending on these kinds of ads is highly correlated with a successful campaign, so I don't expect anyone who wants to win to stop; but anyone out there who decides who to vote for based on 30 second advertisements ought stay home on election day."

"Anyone who bases their decision on a television ad is an uninformed voter and shouldn't be casting a vote at all," agreed Sarah Everett of Seattle. "There has to be a better way of delivering the candidates' messages to the voters. How about old-fashioned town hall type meetings?"

Gregoire's strategists might want to pay heed: Her ads seemed to spark a stronger negative response among Caucus members than Rossi's. Jean Withers of Seattle had this reaction: "Almost conversely, it seems odd to me that, as a strong woman who supports strong women, I find the tone of Rossi's ad more appealing than the tone of Gregoire's. I surmise that her strategists have chosen to take a VERY abrasive tone in damning Rossi. By contrast, his ads seem to present information more calmly and cohesively. Hers are so abrasive that I flinch whenever I hear one."

But Sheila Harrison of Renton finds "Rossi's ads most disingenuous, as if he hasn't ever been part of state government, when in fact, he was very instrumental in shaping the budget and fiscal issues that Gregoire inherited. Gregoire, for her part, needs to be positive in her message and really clearly point out what she has done positively to improve the lives of Washington citizens."

Finally, Paul Graves of Queen Anne takes newspapers to task for the words they use in covering critical ads. ""Rossi does not 'blast' Gregoire; Gregoire does not 'accuse' Rossi. They criticize, they argue, they point out, they refute, and, when done well, confute. Perhaps a little less sensational coverage would work wonders for keeping the candidates on the issues and honest."

Ah, if only it was that easy!

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August 19, 2008 1:32 PM

What do you think of today's primary?

Posted by Katherine Long

Our question to the Seattle Times Political Caucus today: Is the new top-two primary system an improvement over our latest primary, which required voters to pick a party ballot? Were you satisfied with the choices of candidates in the various races? If you vote at the polls on Tuesday, how was turnout? Was it busy at your precinct or dead as the night? What did you think about the election results?

Eric LeMay, South: What's interesting already by the question is that I bet most of us voted a week or more ago. Tuesdays ain't what they use to be for elections.

Benjamin Lukoff, Seattle: There's never really any choice, and this primary is no different. Top-two is better than by-party, though. I am tired of subsidizing the parties' nomination processes. Let's get out of that completely and lower the bar to get on the general election ballot.

Hugh Coleman, Kelso: My ballot came in the mail and I voted at that time. I had no problem with the way things were handled. I wish there were a fewer less offices with only one candidate.

Ken MacDonald, Seattle: The effort to isolate the primary from the parties in the voters pamphlet looks like a joke to me (ie "prefers GOP" or "prefers democratic"). The notion seems to be popular in an increasingly one party region.

The biggest non-partisan political unit is the City of Seattle. We get a continuous stream of left wing candidates running on issues they immediately ignore when they get to public office.

I had never thought much about it before getting the new primary system. But looking at it in a more thoughtful light we could get a county council and state government as inept as the Seattle school board has been or the Seattle City Council, both of whom have a track record of grandstanding rhetoric while failing to take care of the fundamental business of the city. The bags fees and endless racial parsing have not improved education, parks, transportation, or public safety.

Bill Wippel, Normandy Park: I voted absentee. I was wondering if the facts in the voters pamphlet concerning candiates are accurate? If they allow candidates to write their own material for this, is there anyone checking that what they say is the truth?

Dean Olson, Seattle: It's too late for primaries and I miss the League of Women's Voter pamphlet. Even the junk mail has not been informative.

David Spring, North Bend: I am predicting a low voter turn out for the primary Hard core Democrats and hard core Republicans will vote, but there is little incentive for the majority of independent swing voters to bother with it. The problem is not just the Top Two primary, it is the lame idea of having a primary in August. At least half the State of Washington is on vacation this month. How undemocratic can we get to hold an election when everyone is out of town?

Jim Morrell, Sedro-Woolley: This was a huge improvement over the last primary where we had to commit to a party. I was able to vote (write-in) for whomever I chose to vote, and I voted across party lines as I often do. While I lean Republican, there were Democratic candidates and a couple of people from independent parties who had merit, and their ideas were better than the ideas of the incumbent or other major party.

Of the rights we are guaranteed in this country, one is freedom. In this case, I had the freedom to choose the individual whom I thought was the best possible candidate regardless of party affiliation. In the previous election, I was denied that right, and I was forced to choose individuals from one party, regardless of how inept they were, or how baseless their ideas were. In a couple of cases, I didn't vote for a particular office because I couldn't stomach the candidate.

The main groups of people that don't like this system are the bigwigs of the parties. They can't exert their power and controlling behavior over us to force us to vote within one party. That's not what's best for the country or the State of Washington. We want the best people in office, regardless of party affiliation, with the best ideas to get us out of the mess we're in. Limiting choices to one party not only restricts my freedom as a voter, it also allows mediocre individuals with a clear lack of vision, foresight, and talent to run highly influential offices in government. Hence, we have the some of the loathsome conditions we currently experience.

This is the best system for primary voting, and I am one happy camper. I'm also out of the claws of the party leaders' narrow restrictive system.

Bob Barren, Seattle: I have been thinking about this top two primary. The subject of a TV commentator during an interview (generally) said that instead of picking the top Republican or top Democrat, we will now be picking the best person. I am having trouble with this concept. Growing up I saw the PRI party in Mexico choose the best candidate. They were always ideologically the same. No matter what they offered as to their differences. They thought the same. The American political system offered homogeneity but you also got choice. The top two primary is removing that choice. In the end you will have different candidates with the same ideas. The people will not have a choice in the end. I do know that it is common for tax and routine legislation slipped forward in off year elections or primaries where only the most loyal and most activist tend to vote. Unpopular legislative action has a better chance to vote. I fear that is happening to ideas as well. The opportunity to consider true choices is limited. I do know that that has happened I many authoritarian countries, like Mexico under the PRI. I certainly don't want that model of government repeated here.

Nathan Janes, Seattle: My main concern in any election is that I be allowed to vote as I see fit. If ANY tax dollars are used for an election my choice should not be limited to one party. Whether the primary is Top Two or not is irrelevant. If the parties want to control the voting in the primary, then they should fully fund it. If ONE CENT of tax money is used, my choice must never be restricted.

Jeff Grubb, Panther Lake: Voting in the primary is your chance to wave goodbye to all the minor parties, which will never be seen again in a general ballot. The top-two is a nasty little patch to the original blanket primary,a patch that does not fix the minor problem they wanted to fix in the first place (individuals crossing party lines to vote).
If the major parties really want to keep the primaries for solidly registered supporters, that's cool. But the state should charge them for the use of the facilities and support in order to help them select their candidates.

Bob Barren, Seattle: Looking around the local net and some of the local newscasts, it appears that this is a largely mail in election. That has some interesting potential for electioneering and political communication. More and more personalized, targeted information dissemination, most likely email, is going to have the best effect. The candidates who come out of this primary need to groom their email lists and look to acquire lists from like-minded groups. Snail mail is pushing the digital transformation.

Sarah Everett, Seattle: I believe the top-two primary system is an improvement over the pick-a-party primary we had in 2004. In past elections, I have rarely if ever split my ballot, but even I didn't like the idea of having my choices limited by a "party ballot". However, I don't think the top-two primary system is an improvement over the blanket-primary we had for nearly 70 years prior to 2004. But that's a moot point now, obviously, because the blanket-primary system was ruled unconstitutional.

The problem I see with the new top-two primary system is that minority candidates stand very little chance of advancing to the general election. Prior to this election, every party nominated a candidate during the primary and that candidate advanced to the general election. That's not the case any more- the new system is not a nominating process. As a conservative/republican living in the state's largest Democratic voting district, I may never have a candidate to vote for in the general election. That means my "minority" views will never be represented in Olympia. Unless I'm missing something, that doesn't seem fair.

Rob Meyer, Kettle Falls: As of 1:00 PM in Stevens County, they say the turnout will be LESS than the predicted 46% state-wide. I find that hard to believe.

At the Glass Repair Shop this morning, I saw three ballots on the owners desk, ready to mail (we do All-mail-in over here).

At the Pharmacy, every employee was talking about having mailed in, or delivered their ballot in I did later this morning.

Stevens County Auditor said their had been a "steady stream" come in since ballots were sent to voters, but they had no numbers or predictions.

Expect a Rossi/Gregoire gubernatorial final...but Rossi will take Stevens (and probably Ferry and Pend O'Reille Counties) by a 60-40 or 65-35 margin in November.

More later, if I don't lose power again (major wind-storm and major wildfire down in Creston/Davenport area last night and this morning is wreaking havoc with power lines and phone lines).

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August 14, 2008 12:25 PM

Why Obama benefits when the campaign turns to race

Posted by Richard Wagoner

domke.JPGUniversity of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about the impact of race in the presidential campaign.

By David Domke

The consensus among political journalists and pundits is that if race becomes a salient matter in the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama is in trouble. The thinking goes something like this: If white voters are reminded that Obama is black, or start to think through a racial prism, the nation's first African American major-party presidential candidate will lose.

In the words of NBC News political director Chuck Todd: "Anytime race is THE topic du jour in the campaign, it's a bad day for Obama. Period."

I disagree.

Let's review the three most racialized moments in the campaign.



First there was the tit-for-tat in late January, as the Democratic Party approached the South Carolina primary. Obama had won the Iowa caucuses, Clinton had won in New Hampshire and Nevada, and in the days before the Palmetto State's voting, the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns traded accusations that each was bringing up race for political advantage. When Obama won a landslide victory, Bill Clinton dismissed it as Jesse Jackson redux, drawing significant criticism for the comparison. Was Obama damaged by all of this? Not hardly. Bill Clinton, however, has yet to recover.

Next there was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright remix of God bless America, in which Wright presented an image of an angry-at-America, angry-at-whites black man. The political and media punditry quickly sounded the death knell for Obama's candidacy, and indeed Obama sank in the polls. The Gallup Daily Tracking Poll in mid-March showed him leading Hillary Clinton 50 percent to 44 percent before the Wright videos emerged, and five days later it was Clinton up 49 percent to 42 percent. But within days Obama was back in the lead, following his profoundly adult speech on race in Philadelphia.

Most recently we had the he said-he said showdown between John McCain's and Obama's campaigns, beginning with McCain's "Celebrity" advertisement linking Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Some say that tying Obama to young, sexualized white women was an attempt to prime racial stereotypes about black men. For his part, Obama said the McCain campaign was trying to tell everyone that Obama "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." The Obama side later acknowledged it was a ham-handed attempt to highlight race without saying so explicitly.

The McCain camp immediately jumped on it, saying that it was the Obama camp who was playing the "race card." Sensing an advantage, the McCain campaign has subsequently gone all-in with its advertising strategy, and has now released a Web advertisement that declares "Hot chicks love Obama." ABC News' Jake Tapper put the count of young white women in the ad at a minimum of 4. Subtle it ain't.

Since the McCain-Obama back-and-forth began, the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll has shown an interesting pattern. On July 30, when the Celebrity ad was released by the McCain campaign, Obama led McCain 45 percent to 44 percent. On each of the following two days the candidates tied at 44 percent, but nearly every day since Obama has gained ground - and as of Wednesday he led, 48 percent to 42 percent. If Obama was hurt by the racial dynamics, these numbers don't show it.

So how to explain all of this?

I'll offer two lines of argument.

1. Obama is hurt by race when it is a below-the-radar subtext, but he benefits when it is brought explicitly into the light of day. This is exactly what research in political psychology suggests: that only subtle, implicit racial messages work in today's U.S. politics. The evidence suggests that most Americans don't want to act upon their embedded racial prejudices, so when these biases become apparent to them, voters take intentional steps to act differently.

In South Carolina, Bill Clinton's claims that Obama's race helps him among black voters and Clinton's reference to Jesse Jackson made race explicit, and subsequently Obama benefited. With Jeremiah Wright, Obama was hurt in polls when people simply saw Wright's rants, but then Obama bounced back after his "More Perfect Union" speech directly addressed racial divisions. And in the aftermath of the salvos with the McCain camp two weeks ago, the news media now are giving closer scrutiny to the racial dynamics of the campaign. Such scrutiny, this pattern suggests, will help Obama.

2. There are two political groups that are determined that Obama will not suffer the same fate as Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, when the George H. W. Bush campaign rode the infamous "Willie Horton" ad to victory.

The first are African American voters, whose support for Obama is at unprecedented levels for a Democrat. In response to the Wright flap, for example, media reports suggested that blacks often rallied to Obama's side.

Second, the "swiftboat" experiences of John Kerry in 2004 has put the Obama campaign and supporters on high-alert against what it considers unfair criticisms, subtle or otherwise. The Obama campaign launched its site in June, "Fight the Smears," and on Wednesday Kerry himself launched a site, "Truth Fights Back." Both of these sites, ironically, draw upon Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign's war-room approach of instant responses. These kinds of tactics ensure that the Obama campaign will weigh in quickly with its viewpoints, and can go on the offense whenever race comes up. That makes certain that they're significant players in defining the debate.

These factors have made race a complex factor in this presidential campaign - which is as we might expect, given its deep, embedded, and often-contradictory positioning in American culture at large. The evidence simply doesn't suggest that Obama is always hurt when race is part of the campaign. In fact, it appears to be exactly the opposite, so far.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at

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