John McCain at National Council of La Raza Conference

Yesterday, after Barack Obama's speech, there was a townhall meeting here at the La Raza conference at which representatives from the two presidential campaigns answered questions about their respective candidates' health care plans. Tom Perez represented Senator Obama and Doug Holtz-Eakin represented Senator McCain. One thing that struck me was the amount of agreement there actually was between the two surrogates, at least as it was being presented by Holtz-Eakin. Both agreed on the importance of prevention and the fact that the private insurance model as it is now is not working and needs to be reformed and both threw around the buzzwords "access", "quality" and "affordability." Also, it would appear that McCain is actually quite amenable to government regulation of the private insurance industry. But that is where the similarities ended. In fact, Holtz-Eakin didn't say much at all other than stressing prevention and increasing efficiency, but his continued reliance on "the market" to expand people's access to care as well as his refusal to address pre-existing conditions and his knee-jerk demonization of public plans as "bureacracy" showed just how in the sand McCain's head is on the issue and how in the pocket of the private insurance industry he is. It's clear that very little would change under a McCain regime.

Tom Perez did a good job of using the event as a proxy debate on health care. He was particularly good on pushing back against Holtz-Eakin's "bureaucracy" talking point, making the point that it's private insurance companies that are full of bureaucratic inefficiencies that raise costs and compromise quality of coverage. He also used the event to frame health care reform as inextricably linked to immigration reform. "If you can't deliver comprehensive immigration reform then you can't deliver comprehensive health care reform to Latinos." Perez then used this link to deliver a hit on McCain for flip-flopping on immigration reform because of the opposition to it within his party. As Barbin MD posted this morning, John McCain said at the Reagan Library debate that he would not vote for the very bill that he pushed through the senate. Holtz-Eakin hit back on this attack by insisting that McCain's primary campaign was almost completely upended by his support for a path to citizenship and that he "has not changed a bit!"

This is going to be the message that John McCain delivers to La Raza today.

...he has earned the trust of Hispanic voters by championing an immigration reform bill that nearly killed his presidential bid.  [...]

"I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans."

McCain is being introduced right now and he is getting a welcome reception.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:Protesters are chanting and McCain is really thrown by it. "The one thing Americans want us to do is stop yelling at each other, so please..." Applause.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:He's going after Obama for refusing to join him at townhalls.

"This is the third event Senator Obama and I have appeared at together...I asked Senator Obama to have a townhall meeting, to come here with me and share the same stage and yet he has refused to do that. And so I think Americans deserve better. I think Americans deserve a side by side comparison of both of us."

Interesting, he's going to take questions after his speech.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:McCain is now speaking about the economy -- job losses, gas prices, home foreclosures...message: I care. "I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can."

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:His delivery is better than usual -- although he still has not mastered the teleprompter -- and the reception he is receiving is warm. His applause lines are actually receiving applause, although whenever the shot cuts to the audience during applause, it looks only like a quarter of the people in the room are actually applauding.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:The backdrop of McCain's speech is a deep blue with floating "NCLR"s moving slowly back and forth. It's better than the puke green backdrop, of course, but it doesn't compare to Obama's backdrop of young Latinos yesterday.

"I am an unapologetic supporter of NAFTA and CAFTA." That got applause. "I hope Barack Obama will join me and go to Central America and South America for the first time." When he reminded the room that he was just down in South America he got a big applause.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:"I am a strong supporter of charter schools and so is La Raza." Applause. So is Barack Obama, actually."I and my colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration reform...Many Americans didn't believe us when we said we'd secure our borders so we failed in our efforts. I don't want to fail again and we must not. We must prove that we have the resources to secure our borders...When we have achieved our border security we must implement the rest of comprehensive immigration reform." He's talking about immigration reform in terms of both economic and moral terms but is stressing border security. No mention of "path to citizenship" or going after employers.

Update [2008-7-14 16:19:30 by Todd Beeton]:"In his speech, Senator Obama suggested I turned my back on comprehensive immigration reform for political expediency so I feel I must correct the record...I fought for comprehensive immigration reform not once but twice with Senator Kennedy...I cast a lot of hard votes. I took my lumps for it without complaint, my campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because it was the right thing to do for Hispanic-Americans but because it is the right thing to do for all Americans."

Wow, he's mentioned Senator Kennedy 4 times. A Republican basking in the Ted Kennedy glow and in fact making the case that Obama has been opposed to Kennedy moreso than he has is a really strange twist and is a blatant pander considering the love for the Kennedys the Hispanic community has.

Update [2008-7-14 17:56:29 by Todd Beeton]:The text of John McCain's speech is up at Citizen Orange.

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Spin From The California Republican Party

Hector Barajas of the California Republican Party spoke with us after Barack's speech. He approached all press here and offered himself up as a sort of rebuttal resource. The CA statewide Latino coalition chair of the McCain campaign was also here to answer questions. There was no Obama campaign presence here at all.

I asked him, what with all the talk of expanding access to quality affordable health care at the conference today, what would John McCain say to those who believe we need more access to healthcare since he doesn't believe in universal coverage.

"Barack Obama spoke of McCain's plan as being radical. Universal healthcare is what's radical. How do you pay for it? We have a war on terror, Barack Obama says he's going to refine his position...how do you pay for this? John McCain would give the working class a tax break but Barack Obama voted to raise taxes on people making as little as 32k a year."

Yeah, this guy hit all the talking points. This is what FactCheck.org says about this "$32,000 figure."

*  The resolution Obama voted for would not have increased taxes on any single taxpayer making less than $41,500 per year in total income, or any couple making less than $83,000. The $32,000 figure is approximately the taxable income of a single person making $41,500 per year, after all deductions and exclusions.

* Obama's vote (for a non-binding budget bill) does not change the fact that his own tax plan would provide a tax cut of $502 for a non-married taxpayer earning $35,000.

He went on to praise McCain's "market based healthcare plan" which centers on providing "economic incentives to small business owners, which provide 99% of all the jobs in the state."

He then spoke about education and the trouble the system in Los Angeles is having (he cited a 60% drop-out rate) and made a point of saying that the city is largely represented by Barack Obama campaign supporters and members including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state assembly speaker Karen Bass and state senator Gil Cedillo (note the 2 out of 3 hispanic names.) When I asked him "doesn't Arnold Schwarzenegger bear some of the responsibility" he ducked any and all accountability for the governor saying "almost 2/3 of the state legislature is controlled by Democrats." What happened to working across the aisle? As an aside, one of the problems with California's system is that you need a 2/3 majority to pass anything that requires a new revenue stream, which means that pretty much nothing will get done as long as Dems have less than 2/3 and Arnold is governor. Considering how badly Arnold is running this state and how fringe the Republicans who do get elected to state legislative seats are I suspect in 2010 we'll have both a 2/3 majority AND a Democratic governor. But until then, thanks to our famed "bi-partisanship", we're fucked. The irony of Arnold's post-partisanship BS is that bi-partisanship has actually paralyzed the state, hence our path toward one party rule.

I then asked Barajas if McCain was seriously competing for California and his message was, in a word, "yes." He cited the fact that Steve Schmidt, who ran Arnold's re-election campaign in 2006, was now running McCain's day to day campaign. He said they've already opened 7 headquarters in the state and plan to open 6 more just in the coming week (including an opening right here in San Diego with Cindy McCain tomorrow.) He anticipates 3 more after that for a total of 16 (Obama currently has 19 and growing...) He also said McCain has 14 field staff in the state with 7 more employees to be hired in the coming week.

Clearly, at the very least, they want to force Obama to spend some time and money here but it is somewhat comical to listen to this guy say in earnest that "McCain's message resonates with California voters." He cited the fact that McCain is a western senator and his "green technology plan" to which I responded "sure McCain is one of the better Republicans on the environment, which isn't saying much, but why would someone concerned with the environment vote for McCain over Obama?" Barajas busted out yet another laughable talking point:

"On energy policy, Barack Obama is Dr. No. 'No, we're not going to give Americans a gas break.' On off shore exploration he says no. Barack Obama has no short term, mid term or long term solution whereas John McCain does."

I told him that even John McCain has admitted that the effects of the gas tax holiday and allowing more off-shore drilling would be largely psychological and asked how can he claim there would be any imminent drop in gas prices when refineries are already at capacity and the oil companies are not drilling on the leases they already have. Barajas responded that since the prices are largely determined by the speculative futures market, once moves are made toward increasing supply, even if it won't manifest for years in the future if at all, prices will go down because speculators will be less bullish on future prices. Got that?

Barajas closed with a final pitch for McCain.

"People are hurting, they're looking for someone who offers solutions. He may not always say the popular thing but at least he has guts to say what needs to be said. He came to California to announce his support of off shore drilling, which is not popular here. It would block an ocean view but what good is the view if you can't drive to it."

I'm a little dizzy from all the spin.

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National Council of La Raza Conference Liveblog

I'm here in San Diego to cover Barack Obama's and John McCain's appearances at the National Council of La Raza conference -- Barack today, McCain tomorrow. La Raza is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

Barack will be speaking to the convention during their brunch in the convention center ballroom so we're here in the press room (I'm here with Lucas O'Connor of calitics)  watching the proceedings on a big screen. The speakers so far have been representatives of some of the event's sponsors including Shell Oil and WalMart. Greaaaat. We just sat through a speech by WalMart CEO & president Lee Scott talking about how important it is that everyone gets "access to quality health care." Yes, he said it with a straight face.  

Next up was AARP/Divided We Fail COO Tom Nelson who spoke about their Divided We Fail campaign, you know the one with the disturbing half donkey/half elephant mascot. The campaign pits "gridlock in Washington" as the enemy (not the Republicans who cause it, noooo, it's everyone's fault equally you see) and calls for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats to get things done in Washington. What a joke. This is a philosophy that is central to the Washington DC conventional wisdom and one that essentially grants amnesty to Republicans for the destruction they have wreaked on our country and their obstruction to any progress in advancing the agenda of the American people.

One perfect example of this disconnect was when one second Nelson was saying both parties need to work together and the next he spoke passionately about expanding access to health care:

Millions of people are afraid that they are just one illness away from financial disaster and bankruptcy. That is not good policy, certainly it is not fair policy. It needs to change and it needs to change now. Everyone in our country must have health coverage...whether we're talking about someone who works in a corner office or someone who cleans offices.

It's great that this sort of rhetoric is now mainstream and is the default position of non-partisan groups, but by saying the answer can only be reached once Republicans and Democrats come together completely ignores the fact that such a solution to the healthcare crisis is anathema to John McCain and the Republican Party overall. Nelson also said, again, with a straight face, that the candidates need to "tell us how they will protect Social Security." Well, that's easy, John McCain won't, in fact he thinks the program is a "disgrace." Yet through the Divided We Fail campaign, the AARP is advancing the idea that Republicans actually want to advance the AARP's agenda and should be a part of the solution. They don't and they won't be, which is why voters are rejecting them so completely. When is the rest of the conventional wisdom crowd going to catch on?

Barack will be up in a few minutes.

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McCain Proposes Joint La Raza Townhall

This whole townhall back and forth between John McCain and Barack Obama puzzles me a little bit, mostly because I don't entirely understand what McCain is thinking. Jonathan Martin at The Politico catches us up on the status as it stood late last week:

Last Friday, Obama countered McCain's proposal to hold 10 town hall sessions before the Democratic convention by offering to do one town hall around July 4th and a Lincoln-Douglas-style event focused on foreign policy in August where each would offer separate speeches.

McCain said he would continue to reserve one day each week for a joint appearance with Obama.

"To really change the dynamic in Washington, change how we do business, let's change the campagin," McCain said.

So why is McCain pushing this? OK, sure, on paper, the more joint townhalls he and Obama do, the better for McCain since it means more free media for him (of which he can use all he can get) and sure, since by all measures Obama has to be considered the favorite for the presidency right now, McCain needs as many opportunities to force Obama to make an error; but I have to say, the more McCain makes an issue of Obama's reluctance to debate and the more Obama resists, the higher McCain raises the expectations for his own performance and lowers them for Obama.

Which is why I sort of can't wait until they finally do meet together on the same stage. Not only will Obama benefit from the mere juxtaposition of the two of them standing next to each other, but let's not forget, Barack Obama does quite well at these townhall meetings. Conventional wisdom is that Obama needs a speech and thousands of people in a crowd to excel but it's simply not true. Now, Barack is not as good at it as Hillary Clinton is, but remember, he's had plenty of practice this year. This is just one of the many ways in which the drawn out primary has helped make Obama a better candidate, which is one of the reasons I hope Barack takes John McCain up on his latest offer:

John McCain today proposed a joint town hall meeting with Barack Obama when both candidates speak next month to the Latino advocacy group La Raza.

"Both of us have accepted invitations to speak to that organization," McCain said at a news conference downstairs from his Arlington, Va. headquarters.  "My recommendation is that we have a town hall meeting together in front of La Raza."

The organization holds its annual conference in San Diego from July 12th to the 15th.

Another reason is more selfish: it's in San Diego, so I could potentially go, assuming media is allowed. So, while I applaud how Senator Obama has played this so far, I'm hoping he'll agree to this proposal of McCain's. Not only am I confident that he will surpass people's expectations of him in such a forum, but where better to do it than in front of the "largest national Latino civil rights advocacy organization in the United States."

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The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

One of the coolest things about Take Back America last week was the deep sense of cooperation on display among the various factions of the progressive movement. In past years, getting liberal interest groups to see beyond their own issue-oriented goals to work together has been likened to herding cats, but in 2008, with a newfound sense of solidarity as a result of having been together in the wilderness for 7 years as well as matured political and technological organizations, we are now seeing unprecedented cooperation among several groups all of which are devoted to mobilizing voters in unprecedented numbers in November.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Robert Borosage of Campaign For America's Future introduced an impressive array of progressive leaders who outlined their goals for the coming campaign season. Borosage put the amount these groups intended to spend in 2008 in the $400 million range, an unprecedented mobilization of forces on the left in a single election season.

Borosage included in his calculation Rock the Vote and Women Voices-Women Vote, which promote voting by young people and unmarried women, respectively; ACORN, which advocates for expanded housing opportunities; and the National Council of La Raza, which backs Hispanic causes.

Those groups are barred by their nonprofit tax statuses from backing candidates or engaging in partisan politics, but Borosage said they intend to spend a combined $75 million registering and mobilizing voters.

Then there are labor heavyweights SEIU, Change to Win and the AFL-CIO. They can spend money on both mobilization and partisan politicking. Plus, a Supreme Court ruling last year granted them more flexibility in funding and airing often hard-hitting issue ads right up until Election Day. [...]

As for MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Obama, Hogue said it would enthusiastically unite with the other groups behind Clinton if she carried the nomination into a general election showdown with the presumptive GOP nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

What's different this year than four years ago? For one thing, election law is a bit looser allowing more groups to coordinate with each other, while still not able to coordinate with candidates. But also, the political environment is much different than it was in 2004.

"In '04 the right mobilized its base and its resources," Bob Borosage...said in an interview. "Liberals mobilized, although we were still building at the time. Well, we've continued to build and expand and gotten more enthusiastic and more mobilized and their coalition has collapsed." [...]

"The progressive infrastructure was really evolving in '04," said Iliyse Hogue, campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action. "Now what we've got is not only really good establishment roles, but also the kind of relationships and trust and confidence in each other that comes from working together in the trenches."

While the level of cooperation among the groups is impressive, each of them fills its own niche with its own set of goals. Some highlights from the press conference:

The AFL-CIO plans to focus on mobilizing 13 million union members in battleground states. They intend to spend $53.4m to fund a communications effort with union members to get across the message that John McCain represents Bush's third term. To that end they've launched the excellent McCain Revealed campaign. Promised Karen Ackerman: "Everywhere McCain goes working Americans will be there to confront him on his economic policies."

Women's Voices Women Vote plan to focus their mobilization effort on unmarried women who now make up 26% of the voting age population. For the first time ever, single women make up the same share of the population as married women and they are overwhelmingly pro-change and pro-Democratic. As Paige Gardener put it: "Unmarried women will be to Democrats in 2008 what evangelicals were to Republicans in 2004."

Rock The Vote, as you can imagine, will be targeting young people with a goal of registering 2 million new voters between the ages of 18-29. Registration is the biggest barrier to this group's voting; 82% that are registered actually do vote in the presidential election and to that end, Rock The Vote has launched an easy to use online reg tool, which users are offered the moment they hit the homepage. So far in 2008, we've seen unprecedented participation by young people; in state after state, youth participation is either doubling, tripling or quadrupling that of 4 years ago. Rock The Vote is uniquely qualified to tap into that excitement to translate to Democratic victory in November.

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