DES MOINES, IA.—After six Democratic presidential candidates gave speeches over four-hours Saturday night at the big Iowa state party dinner, I talked with the emcee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
“I thought everybody had a good show,” she told me. “I do think that most everybody in the room was spoken for.”
What’s left to figure is if the speeches and organizational shows of force inside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium here will translate into a course change in the Democratic primary race in Iowa and beyond.
*Dodd, Biden Richardson did nothing special to bring up their score. They delivered speeches, not momenteum changing stemwinders.
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) was pretty highbrow for a red meat crowd, musing about the poetry of Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson gets credit for bringing up Darfur and trying to stand out as the race is starting to take a negative turn. "I believe it is ok to point out policy differences...the American people, the voters of Iowa, they want a positive campaign." Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) had a good string of "no more" to a range of Bush administration abuses.
(And on Heaney, Pelosi bolstered Bide. "Seamus Heaney. I recommend his newest translation of Beowulf.")
*Obama wins on the organizational front. At the Jefferson Jackson dinner, the bleaches are supposed to be packed with supporters. That’s what Pelosi was talking about. Obama had more sections of supporters. He had his name up in lights on both sides of the arena. He had signs for each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In the context of trying to get out your vote at the Jan. 3 caucus, Saturday provided an impressive dry run.
*The Obama speech. He was pitch perfect in framing this election, this time ,as being “a defining moment’’ of history. “America, our moment is now.” He reprised his famous “red state blue state” line from his 2004 Democratic Convention speech. Obama conveyed a sense of urgency and destiny for his candidacy, his life journey.
This line might have been intended to plug his experience gap. There’s no waiting for next time, he said. “I believe there is such a thing as being too late.”
Did Obama go too negative? He did not mention Clinton by name. But who else could Obama be accusing of triangulating—a political word invented to describe President Clinton--and taking “poll driven positions.” And who else but Clinton could be accused of taking positions because of what “Mitt or Rudy” might say. Romney and Giuliani, to paraphrase Clinton, are some of the Republicans who are “obsessed” by her.
Clinton senior advisor Mark Penn told me after the Obama speech that he did get in “a series of digs.”
*The Clinton speech. She presented herself as a fighter. She anticipated and addressed smartly in a pre-emptive manner the outstanding issues against her, dealing pretty well on electability, in particular by talking about her red state endorsements. New slogan “Turn up the heat” a political temperature counter to Obama’s “Fired up.”
*The Edwards speech. Effective, but not sure it will swing momenteum his way in a big way. Will give leaners a reason for a second look, which is not good for Clinton or Obama since Iowa is essentially deadlocked.
Edwards was impassioned. “We’re better than this.” “Trust your heart,” he said. I took that to mean this: Iowa voters, don’t game this out and not vote for me because I may not be the front-runner like Obama and Clinton.
He’s trying for a level playing field, since in the next 53 days, he will face the full force of the Clinton and Obama organizations and tv money. He made a good decision not to go after Clinton since he slammed her earlier in the day over a planted question in a town hall meeting.