Notes From Drake

This is Nate Willems.  I was a regional director for Howard Dean's Iowa campaign and recently finished law school at the University of Iowa.

800 people filled Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University for the first Democratic debate to be held in Iowa.  The 90-minute debate broadcast live on This Week with George Stephanopoulos was the feature attraction of an early morning of Democratic presidential politics along University Avenue in Des Moines.

When I parked my car around 5:45 a.m. near the University, a two block long stretch of University Avenue adjacent to Sheslow Auditorium was already full of campaign organizers and volunteers dressed in their candidates' shirts, carrying a ton of signs, and doing their "visibility" work.  I have to give the edge to the Obama folks.  They had a large group of staff and volunteers, an awesome step team from Chicago (think of the cheerleaders from the movie "Wildcats"), and they managed to strategically park their vehicles so that they had a large presence on both sides of the Clinton people.  These are the minor tactical victories over which campaigns obsess.

The Dodd contingent was just strange.  They had a bunch of male staffers who had sprayed their own hair white.  They had somebody dressed in a white rabbit suit wearing a sign that said "Dodd's Hare," standing on top of pieces of sod they had obviously brought in and named "Dodd's Sod." Most interestingly, they had a couple of guys in muscle body suits.  Their visibility display really just left me questioning their sobriety.  

Richardson, Kucinich, and Gravel had no visibility presence before the debate, nor did they have a post-debate rally near the Auditorium.  As much as Richardson has risen, and seems to be doing well in Iowa, this is the type of thing that makes me wonder how serious his campaign is.  If you are a top tier candidate, you really ought to be showing people that you are playing to win in this type of setting.  Add this to Richardson's late cancellation from the Workers for a Better Iowa event last night in Cedar Rapids, where the other five main candidates all spoke, and it simply does not lend a lot of confidence in the direction of his campaign here.

Inside the Auditorium, the crowd was instructed not to clap too much or stand up during the debate.  The audience quickly disregarded this direction when Governor Dean was introduced and he received a standing ovation from the crowd.  7 candidates soon filed to the stage.  Notably absent was Senator Clinton.  She made a separate appearance after the men had been standing at their podiums for several minutes.  In speaking to people after the debate, nobody seemed to know why she was late.

From the audience's perspective, Senator Clinton was positioned at a podium on the far right of the Democratic field and Representative Kucinich was positioned on the far left.  The first question, to Clinton, asked her whether Senator Biden was correct when he said that Senator Obama is too inexperienced to be President.  It did not seem like a particularly fair or valuable question to ask anybody.  Obama got the best line in when, after several candidates had the opportunity to not answer the question of whether Joe Biden was right, Obama said, "To prepare for this debate, I rode the bumper cars at the state fair..."

In what may be a new addition to his message, John Edwards asked the question, "Who's most likely to bring about change?" Personally, this is exactly the type of reasoning that has led me to support Edwards.  By imagining each of the candidates as President and asking, "Who is most likely to accomplish the things that are important to me?" I found that the answer is John Edwards.  Whether or not this way of thinking will catch on amongst Iowa Democrats closer to the time of the Caucuses, I am not ready to predict.

When the focus of the debate shifts to the particulars of Iraq, Joe Biden still seems to have an edge over the rest of the field.  He got the best of Bill Richardson in a little exchange.  Obama successfully shifts the focus back to the implication he lacks the "experience" to be President and notes that most of the leading candidates voted for the war.  Edwards, in a kind of above-the-fray manner, states that, "Any Democratic President will end this war." However, when it comes to the details of exactly how a President will accomplish this task, no candidate seems to be able to beat or make a better case than the one made by Joe Biden.

In responding to two particular questions, Edwards has notably gutsy and well-timed responses.  When asked whether the power of prayer could play a role in preventing or lessening the impact of disasters like Katrina or the I-35 W bridge collapse, Clinton and Dodd got the first two responses.  Both said that they personally prayed regularly, but declined to really answer the question.  Edwards than bluntly stated that, though prayer is important to him, the answer to the question was No.  Later, when all the candidates were asked about a time they were less than candid with people as to their own viewpoint, Edwards took the opportunity to cite his vote for the war in Iraq.  He admitted that he had great doubts about the wisdom of going to war, but did not express them and made a wrong choice.

In summarizing the performances, people with whom I spoke either thought the debate was a draw or that Obama had given a slightly better performance than the others.  To me, Obama did seem more "Presidential" than I thought he had in the past.  He defended the positions for which he has been criticized very well and showed a grasp on the minutia of issues from Iraq to the Farm Bill.

After the debate, there were rallies and receptions held by Obama, Clinton, Edwards, and the Iowa Democratic Party within a block or two from the Auditorium.  The Obama and Edwards groups were better described as rallies, spilling over into the street.  A good contingent of senior staffers from Governor Culver's office were at the Edwards rally, as was Joe Trippi.  

I spoke to a 2004 Edwards supporter who is still trying to decide between Edwards and Clinton.  She expressed frustration that the Clinton campaign did not seem to realize who the party has changed in the past five years, and that they seem to be running a 1990's kind of campaign.  In talking to former Dean supporters, I sense people are a little more inclined to support Obama at this point.  There does seem to be a hesitancy to embrace Edwards.  

Lastly, I should say that despite my misgivings - I still do not think you should charge people $100 for a ticket to watch a debate - and frustrations I heard from campaign staffers - "the Party changed the rules on signs and visibility like five times" - the Iowa Democratic Party put a great event together this morning.  The location was very good, the event was run well, and everything went smoothly.  

Tags: Caucuses, Debate, Iowa (all tags)



Re: Richardson

I saw that Richardson, Kucinich and Gravel were the only candidates scheduled to appear at the INDN "Prez on the Rez" event yesterday, a forum geared toward native American issues. Not that those issues are not important, but I was surprised that Richardson was appearing there instead of in Cedar Rapids at the labor event.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-19 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Richardson

Richardson has long standing ties to Native Americans from his years in Congress and as Governor of New Mexico.  Some of the most significant legislation advancing the rights of Native Americans in the 1980's was sponsored by Richardson.

by Stephen Cassidy 2007-08-19 07:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

Damn, I missed it and forgot to DVR it.  Does anyone know a link where I can see it in its entirety?

Who did especially well?

by jgarcia 2007-08-19 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

btw, two observations:

1.  Ever notice how often Dodd says the word, "here", after every other sentence?  It's funny.  Don't get me wrong, I like Dodd A LOT.

2.  Richardson just seems to be flying by the seat of his pants.  Now, and before.  And he seems VERY unprepared in all facets of his campaign.  I mean, he seemed to not have even brushed up before many different appearances, e.g., the MTP interview and the recent LGBTQ forum on LOGO, just to name a couple.

by jgarcia 2007-08-19 01:26PM | 0 recs
Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

They might be re-running tonight

by merbex 2007-08-19 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

I'll check.  Thanks!!!

by jgarcia 2007-08-19 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

Someone in a prior thread mentioned a re-braodcase on C-Span at 6:30, I believe. I'm not sure, but you may want to browse one of the earlier debate dairies.

by DPW 2007-08-19 02:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

That is, 6:30 pm, eastern time, according to a comment in lori's diary entitled "Who won the debate?". I haven't confirmed this with any other source.

by DPW 2007-08-19 02:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

thank you very much!

i'll set my DVR.  i appreciate the info.

by jgarcia 2007-08-19 02:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Check c-span starting at around 7pm EST

No problem. I'm watching it now on c-span, you the commenter was right.

by DPW 2007-08-19 02:44PM | 0 recs
Re: former Dean supporters

The ones I know in Des Moines and the suburbs seem to be divided between Edwards and Obama. I have no concept of what proportion are going to which candidate. Nate would obviously know more former Dean supporters than I would.

by desmoinesdem 2007-08-19 01:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

" She expressed frustration that the Clinton campaign did not seem to realize who the party has changed in the past five years, and that they seem to be running a 1990's kind of campaign "

Did She offer an explanation for what she meant by that , because I think she has had an excellent campaign so far . Is she talking in terms of running a populist campaign like Edwards or what was she referring to.

by lori 2007-08-19 01:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

I think what she meant is that the Clinton campaign is more of a traditional, top-down campaign, that takes very few risks.  It is a mindset that sees Democratic principles on the defensive, as in 1996, and not on the offensive, as in 2006 and 2008.

by Nate Willems 2007-08-19 01:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

Wow. Your offensive/defensive characterization really sums that up perfectly. Thank you.

by BingoL 2007-08-19 01:41PM | 0 recs
That is a profound statement and

that's an excellent and very succinct way of putting it vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton.  I like her, but I am supporting Edwards because, something tells me that HRC, Bill, and her entire campaign team have been too indoctrinated to be on the defensive and overly cautious, almost afraid to do ANYTHING of any significance; almost as if they still have this belief that the country is "conservative at heart."  

Well, in issue after issue, the country is to the left of even the Democratic Party.  So, I think the Clintons bought into a GOP-framed piece of propaganda that started once they took over Congress in 1994.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am VERY hesitant to support Mrs. Clinton.  

by jgarcia 2007-08-19 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

There is nothing wrong with thinking before you act.  Bush just shoots from the hip and Obama is clueless.

by changehorses08 2007-08-19 09:16PM | 0 recs

It was:

The Dodd Squad
The Dodd Bod (the guy in the muscle costume)
The Dodd Sod (Grass)
The Dodd Theropod (Dinosaur)
The Dodd Rod (Stewart)

Pictures here:


by Tim Tagaris 2007-08-19 01:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

Nate, I'm pretty sure you were sitting right next to me at the debate this AM.  I was going to ask you why you were taking notes - I knew it would have led to a good conversation.  

by Peter from WI 2007-08-19 03:44PM | 0 recs
How different are the Dems & Reps on Iraq?

I am concerned that Clinton, Obama and Edwards ultimately aren't confident enough in their judgment and lack the foreign policy expertise to order a complete withdrawal should they get elected.  We saw this today again at the debate in Iowa.  They'll keep forces in Iraq for years to come.  

What difference then will there be on the most important issue of the campaign between the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominees?  No Republican nominee will advocate an endless commitment to Iraq.

The path out of Iraq for Clinton, Obama and Edwards will be long march spread over years.  That will be true as well with any Republican Presidential nominee.

I'm supporting Richardson in part because he has the best plan for leaving Iraq.  William M. Arkin who writes on National and Homeland Security for the Washington Post recently commented:

It is on Iraq though, that Richardson really shines. "I believe that we need to withdraw all of our troops within six months," he writes. "Other than the customary Marine contingent at the embassy, I would not leave anyone behind. And if the embassy isn't safe, they're coming home too. No airbases. No troops in the Green Zone. No embedded soldiers training Iraqi forces, because we know what that means. It means our troops would still be out on patrol -- with targets on their backs."

We are spending $10 billion a month on Iraq, Richardson says. "Of the many ways in which Mr. Bush's ill-conceived war has distracted us from our real national security needs, this is the most dangerous," he concludes. "There is not a single sign that Iraq is improving. To the contrary, every indication is that it's getting worse, and a smaller force will do nothing to change that."

And so Bill Richardson says something that the other candidates evidently can't or won't: "A regional crisis is worthy of military intervention. A true threat to our country's security is worthy of war. But a struggle between a country's warring factions, where both sides hate the United States, is not worthy of one more lost American life."

Source: ing/2007/08/bill_richardson_the_man_who_ wo.html?nav=rss_blog

by Stephen Cassidy 2007-08-19 07:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

This site appears to be showing the debate

It was really good I hope you enjoy it.

by changehorses08 2007-08-19 09:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

I just left Iowa this past weekend, and from my experience I'd say you're right about Richardson. He hit a grand slam with his commercials, but I think his support right now is 10% wide and an inch deep. Most of his support is very superficial, but people are able to recite the fact that he's "experienced," and seem to be genuinely impressed with his resume.

Also, I think you're right about former Dean supporters gravitating toward Obama. Edwards has done a great job of keeping his precinct captains from last time around, but a lot of the Dean people seem to be coming out for Obama (maybe because of their deep hostility toward the war).

by Max Fletcher 2007-08-19 09:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

That was a great answer.

by Max Fletcher 2007-08-19 09:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

I thought Obama looked tired and puffy eyed. He rehashed the same old crap about who voted for the war in the first place.  Which always sounds strange coming from someone who wasn't even in the Senate at the time.  His politics of hope seems to have given way to a bitter realization that this is not his time and that his shiny new image has been replaced by a sad realism that he couldn't make the sale.  I really tried to listen to him tonight to figure out why he wanted to stop debating.  All I saw was a man haunted by the glory he somehow missed and disappointed in us and himself for not being able to make this happen.

Edwards shined tonight like a man who had nothing to lose and alot to gain.  

Richardson doesn't seem to want it badly enough.  

Kucinich was great because he never has to apologize to anyone for anything.  He is real. No matter what happens in these primaries he will go on being Kucinich and he seems comfortable in his liberal skin.

Biden is a very deep thinker and a good man.  Its a shame the media has not given him a chance because he is the most knowlegable candidate on Foreign Policy.  What was all the more poignant in his statements is that his own son will soon be going off to Iraq and he is unable to end this pointless war before that happens.  He has already lost his wife and son in a car accident.  

Dodd seemed to realize it was an uphill fight and seemed resigned to going back to the Senate.

Hillary looks the most Presidential.  I don't know what she has but you can't buy it.  If this were a job interview she would get the job because of her exhuberance and eagerness to tackle this sorrowful legacy which Bush will have left for her.  In her eyes you see a steely grit and you know she is determined to put this right.  

I left out Gravel but so have the American people.

by changehorses08 2007-08-19 10:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

That right! Keep saying:  I think she can; I think she can.  Maybe she will make it over the hurdle that is 52% of Americans saying they will not vote for her under ANY circumstances.  Note that post-Bush we are under those circumstances.

by BlockedConfused 2007-08-20 10:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

>>>52% of Americans saying they will not vote for her under ANY circumstances.

Bull.  Shit.

Go sell crazy someplace else, cuz no one's buyin.

by jgarcia 2007-08-20 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

Hillary is 2% away from that vaunted plateau.  I don't think she can make it.  I KNOW SHE CAN.

by changehorses08 2007-08-20 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

Great insight, horses.

You hit the nail on the head with every one of them, especially re Hillary.  She just seems competent and conveys the energy it's gonna take to clean up the mess.

by jgarcia 2007-08-20 11:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Notes From Drake

jgarcia thank you very much.  

by changehorses08 2007-08-20 11:43AM | 0 recs


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