Small States and Retail Politics
by Nathan Empsall, Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 05:44:40 PM EDT
Though I haven't seen any Kos or MyDD straw polls regarding the Florida and Michigan primaries, a number of prominent diaries suggest that the Netroots community isn't too happy about Governor Dean and the DNC sticking up for themselves. Respectfully, I must disagree.
Obviously, the DNC needs to enforce its rules, including the Feb. 5 window, or it becomes a paper tiger capable of nothing more than fundraising. Unfortunately, the denial of delegates is the only practical tool it has. The six viable Democratic candidates for President have now all signed a pledge circulated by the four early states agreeing to respect the party's rules. Biden for President campaign manager Luis Navarro said,
It is time to end all the maneuvering around the dates of the early primaries and caucuses. We intend not only to sign the pledge, but to honor our pledge to Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina to respect their primacy to the process. They played by the rules of the DNC. We respect those rules. The public despises this kind of maneuvering for political advantage. If the Republicans want to play this way, let them. But we will not be a party to it.
More important than rules and discipline, however, is the vital role that these early states play in our primary process. The NH GOP has played a number of dirty tricks over the last few years, but I'm afraid I have to agree with what their Chair, Fergus Cullen, said at the start of last night's NH GOP '08 debate.
Campaigns should be more than 30 second ads. In NH, candidates do the hard work of meeting voters face-to-face, answering questions, debating issues, and earning votes, one by one. [The 2008 candidates]... have been doing that hard work for months, interacting with voters in a process we believe serves America well.
Putting large states first or hosting a national primary day would be a ban on "second tier" candidates like Jimmy Carter and John Kerry. Spacing out the voting allows for these campaigns to gain momentum between primaries and caucuses. Neither Carter nor Kerry would have had the funds to compete nation-wide in expensive media markets like Los Angeles or New York. Even the "top tier" candidates would have to focus on nothing but fundraisers, virtually eliminating the kitchen discussions and diner meet-`n-greets NH and Iowa encourage. Smaller states offer cheaper media markets and more occasions to let the voters actually meet and connect with the candidates (Obama and Clinton rock-star rallies notwithstanding). Already this cycle, I have met Biden, Obama, Edwards (twice), Dodd (twice), Richardson, and Gravel, as well as almost-rans Bayh, Kerry (twice), Warner (twice), and Feingold (twice). This could never happen in a larger state like California or New York (unless YearlyKos is held there, of course). A national primary would also mean the votes of small-state residents would mean little more than they do in the general election--how often do you see the nominees stumping for votes in states with just three or four electoral votes? If we're not going to give the small states a say in the general, can we at least let them matter in the primary? (I have much more to say on the subject of how to hold the primaries, but because this is supposed to be a post about Joe Biden and not the larger race, I will put the rest in the comment section.)
So how is this a campaign blogger post? Retail politics aren't just good for the nation; they're good for the Biden campaign, too. At a meeting with the campaign's NH Steering Committee, Biden's sister and national chairwoman, Valerie Biden-Owens, told us that no one is as good at retail politics as Joe Biden. I summed up that conversation in a previous article,
Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) is the best campaigner of the bunch. The current top three Democrats are relegated to rock-star rallies before audiences of thousands, limiting their ability to truly connect with voters in the kitchen campaign style early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have come to expect. People come to hear the top three speak out of curiosity, but often leave as soon as the speech is over. Biden, on the other hand, may be drawing smaller crowds, but 95% of those who come stay until he leaves, and 85% give their e-mail addresses to the campaigns. When talking to voters, he asks them what they do, what they care about, and how they live their lives. And when you do talk to him, he has an answer. I have never seen anyone with such a strong command of the facts. Biden understands the details of every issue, and has a plan whether it is within his committee purview or not. He never ducks questions; I have seen him given thorough answers about Iraq, Darfur, Hurricane Katrina, climate change, energy, student loans, teacher pay, health care, veterans' benefits, and more. That is true retail politics.
In his memoirs, "Promises to Keep", Joe Biden describes a well-received speech he gave to the AFL-CIO in 1984, and later writes, while describing the 1988 campaign:
Even Jill was telling me we were going to win Iowa... and New Hampshire, too. And when I got on the road for some quick campaign tours, I started to see what she was seeing. At an event at a private home in New Hampshire near the end of August, the crowd that showed up was so big it spilled out into the yard. So I went out on a porch balcony to give my stump speech. In the middle of the talk it started to mist, and I told them I'd stop, but they said no. And nobody left. They stood in the drizzle and listened, rapt, when I explained to them... the `platform' the Democratic Party could provide the American people. It rained and nobody left. This was new territory for me. These people were in. (Biden, 189)
There's a reason the Biden campaign is pouring all its energy into Iowa. A better-than-expected-finish is not out of the question for a guy with his political acumen. In fact, Biden has more Iowa state legislature endorsements than anyone but Clinton. Just today the campaign announced, "Assistant House Majority Leader John Whitaker (D-Hillsboro), whose son was deployed last week to Iraq, today became the 7th Iowa state legislator to endorse Joe Biden for President." Do remember, John Kerry wasn't supposed to finish higher than third a mere two weeks before the caucuses, either.
I'll leave you with a few timely Biden links and videos. Below you'll find two videos, both about three minutes long; one is from the SEIU about Biden's participation in their "Walk a Day in My Shoes" campaign, the other is an interview with CBS' The Early Show, taped just before Biden went to Iraq for his eighth visit. I'll focus on Iraq next week, I think, when Biden begins hearings on the subject. For now, take a look at Foreign Policy magazine's website, which has a good blog post called, "Republicans trashed the Biden plan they now back." You may have seen the campaign's diary about it at Daily Kos yesterday.UPDATE 09-07-07 2:02 AM: I should make clear that I'm not suggesting Carter and Kerry are examples of good nominees or good campaigns. I'm just proving the point that instituting a national primary, or putting large states first, would abolish second tier candidates without large war chests (unless you also instituted public funding of elections, and without a President Biden or Feingold, how likely is that?).