Close to 500 people showed up at the Church Brew Works to hear Gov. Howard Dean, head of the DNC, speak tonight.
I showed up a little early and before the crowd arrived. Signed in, my named carefully checked off a sheet of paper, a yellow paper band around my left wrist, I walked into the already bustling hall. The wait staff was preparing the hall for the a couple hundred political types. Volunteers from the USW in matching t-shirts and non-USW volunteers were shepherding the other earlies to their seats. I got to hang with the other "press" types.
The OPJ was there, too! It's an odd occurrence, the two of us being in the same place at the same time but it happened tonight. The grand irony of the evening, she quickly told me, is that as a volunteer she was in charge of the MSM area. Think of it, Chris Potter, a blogger was put in charge of the MSM press folks.
Soda (what the locals inexplicably call "pop") and bottled water were free. Beer you had to pay for. And there were boxes of pastries from Prantl's. The chocolate frosted chocolate cake cubes covered with chocolate sprinkles were particularly good.
The specific planning for this event took about a month, Richard Pierson, one of the hosts, told me. They wanted everything to go smoothly. At a previous event, the PA system wasn't really working out very well, so some effort was put into getting a better one. Tonight, there were the main speakers up front and then another bank of speakers all pointed outward set in the middle of the hall.
By 4:30 (the time the event was supposed to start) people were still streaming in. Everyone from the press stood around waiting. TV crews from PXI and KDKA were scrambling for a position on the camera stand. Delano was planning a live shot. Jim O'Toole was thumbing through a copy of the latest City Paper. Any sort of crew from WTAE-TV, Maria told me, was no where to be found.
Springsteen was playing on the PA system. In a loop. I heard "Philadelphia" at least three times. "Glory Days" at least twice.
The Party Begins
At 5:15, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato arrived, shook a few hands and made it up onto the stage, followed up the other "Hosts" of the evening. Jim Burn, head of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, in his introductory remarks noted that the Mayor and the County Executive were sitting together and that they're "getting along just fine."
There was a minor ripple of laughter through the crowd at the joke. If you didn't get the joke, read this.
Burn went on to talk about how the Republicans were using the primary debates to tarnish the Democratic presidential candidates. He reminded the crowd (this time to great applause) that "the debate is in the spring, the fight is in the fall."
He then introduced the mayor. It's difficult to describe the level of applause heard. It was not at all overwhelming (that would come a little later) but calling it merely "respectful" would be just as incorrect. It was somewhere inbetween. "Healthy" might be a good adjective to describe it. It was obvious the mayor had a few fans in the crowd. I even saw a couple of "I Like Luke" buttons.
The mayor outlined some of the things Democrats needed to do in the upcoming election season - show the differences between what Democrats stand for and what Republicans stand for. He then introduced the County Executive who then repeated (to much the same effect as before) Jim Burns' joke. He put his arm around Mayor Ravenstahl and told the crowd "He's my new best friend. He spoke of the need for economic development, how he was looking forward to working with the mayor in the fall, and how we all have to work together to make sure "we take back the White House" in 2008.
When Patrick Dowd was introduced, the crowd erupted. Loudly. It was his crowd. He said it was an honor to introduce Gov Dean and pointed out the two things Dean understands. 1) that the Democratic Party is the popular party, it's the party of the people, and 2) how to build a party organization.
Gov Howard Dean
When Patrick Dowd introduced Howard Dean, the crowd really went wild. Tieless but wearing a Patrick Dowd sticker on his blue shirt, he entered from the back of the hall, strode down the center aisle and onto the stage.
After thanking the dignitaries in the crowd (especially Prantl's) he went into a passionate defense of the Democratic Party. He began by saying that the age of the the "one way" campaign is over - and used as an example Dowd's recent campaign - Dowd knocked on 12,000 doors. It's no longer enough to just put a 15 second commercial on the air. You have to get involved with the people whose votes you're looking for. He said that's why he thought the recent YouTube debate on CNN was such a great idea. For the first time in 45 years ordinary Americans could ask questions in a serious debate forum.
He said later that he wasn't surprised that the Republicans are running from a similar format - probably for exactly the same reason.
Talking about the party, he used 2006 win of Jason Altmire as another example of the new Democratic "50 State" strategy. Altmire was not afraid of "a darling of" the far right, Dean said. When the election was over, and Altmire was the winner, it was all discovered that the average American does not agree with the politics of the far-right.
All of us, he said, vote based on our emotions. And when we speak from our emotions, and with a positive message, we can overcome the hate spewed out from conservative talk-radio. Americans are tired of feeling bad about America - and that's what they get from talk radio.
He went on to counter a new Republican talking-point.
The Democratically controlled Congress has done more in 6 months (funding for Walter Reed hospital, the recent ethics bill, instituting the findings of the 9/11 commission etc) than the Republicans did in the previous s 6 years.
The Republican candidates (all except for the lone libertarian among them) want to stay the course in Iraq. They thought it a great idea to commute the Scooter's sentence, to veto healthcare for kids. It's the same old stuff from the same old party. The same old tired right-wing nonsense.
The Democrats are the ones saying no to torture. The ones opposing the Republican culture of corruption.
He said that something's happened in the past 8 years. Something not normal. It's not normal, for instance, to have a president of the United States who doesn't understand the Constitution of the United States.
He made one more comparison between the parties. The Democrats will not put party over the interest of the nation. The Democrats will restore honesty to government.
The future looks brighter for Democrats. Looking at the various polling data, on who's polling and what they believe. The values of those under 30 far more match the values of the Democratic party than they do the Republican party.
They are the Old America, he said.
We are the New America.