For cumulative ratings on the 2008 candidates, see Cumulative Scorecards for the 2008 Democratic Debates.
At the Democratic National Committee's Winter 2007 meeting, held from February 1 to 3, 2007 in Washington D.C., 10 candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination made their pitches to the party faithful in attendance and to live C-SPAN cameras.
The following are my brief comments about their presentations, and my verdict on their candidacies thus far, 21 months before the November 4, 2008, elections.
The Setting and Rules
Each of the 2008 hopefuls was allotted 7 minutes for their speech, and were allowed an additional 1 minute for an introduction, made by a DNC officer chosen at random.
And each of the 2008 hopefuls, of course, ignored the 7-minute limit, although a few (most notably John Edwards and Hillary Clinton) egregiously ignored the time-limit rules and warnings.
All but one candidate, Barack Obama, had a theme tune played as he/she entered and exited the rostrum, and most had placard-waving, t-shirt-wearing, sticker-and-button-distributing campaigners working the crowd and the C-SPAN cameras.
The speeches were remarkably different, although all mentioned the Iraq War and health care reform, and most were effusively complimentary of DNC chair Howard Dean's remarkably successful campaign 2006 50-state strategy.
My critique of the Democratic candidates at the DNC winter 2007 meeting is in the same order as their appearances at the rostrum.
Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut
(For cumulative ratings, see Rating Chris Dodd - Cumulative Scorecard for the 2008 Debates.)
Chris Dodd, who is given no chance by oddsmakers to capture the Democratic nomination, delivered a surprisingly effective speech, and he obviously had great fun doing it.
Unlike most candidates, he tackled a wide range of specific issues with equal gusto, including U.S. loss of manufacturing jobs, health care reform, ending the Iraq War and "trade vs fair trade." He blasted the "deception and incompetence" of Bush and Cheney, and proclaimed as his campaign message his desire to again convert "Democratic Principles into American Policies."
If bipartisanship is the watchword of 2008, Dodd is not our candidate. He pronounced himself "Proud to be a Democrat," and disdained bipartisanship as little more than Democrats agreeing with Republican ideas.
Realizing that he's an unknown entity, Dodd successfully shared his personal story. Who knew that this distinguished sixty-something 5-term senator remarried late in life, and had 2 very young children? (Thus, Obama and Edwards don't hold a lock on the cute-kids-appeal vote.)
Dodd's challenges are that he's little known nationally, and that he's a New England liberal, a political type notoriously shunned in many parts of the U.S. Just ask John Kerry. And in 2002, Dodd voted YES for the Iraq War, a slip in judgment many candidates must explain to Democratic voters.
The Verdict on Dodd: Sharing the bottom of the heap, but likeable, informed and rising. Definite candidate for vice president.
(For cumulative ratings, see Rating Barack Obama - Cumulative Scoreboard for the 2008 Debates.)
Sen. Obama strode to the rostrum amid resounding cheers, but no catchy pop music, no waving placards and no shrieking, festooned campaign workers.
After flashing his charismatic smile, Obama donned a different suit than we've see before on the 2008 campaign stump: that of sober, serious pastor, not of revved-up, roaring-to-go competitor for the ultimate reality-contest prize.
The first half of Sen. Obama's speech was devoted to platitudes deploring that "This is not a game. This is not a contest. This is a serious moment for the American people." Obama used a jagged vocabulary of painful words such as cynicism, fearful, bloodsport and calculating. He spoke in a slower, more subdued cadence than his usual manner.
The silence during this part of the senator's speech was eery, and I'm unsure whether it was from reverence or surprise. Probably both.
The second half of of Sen. Obama's stark speech eloquently urged action on the vital issues of the day: the Iraq War, health care costs, oil dependence, disappearing pensions, and the need for a new U.S. foreign policy.
I respect that Sen. Obama is not one to pander to a particular crowd. His no-frills, somber approach was appropriate and, frankly, a welcome relief from the expensive gamesmanship of American political campaigns. And I respect that he didn't bait his hungry Democratic audience into a frenzy with cheap-cliche manipulation... as he well could with his immense oratorical talents.
I GET and am attuned to Barack Obama's unconscious faith-filled appeal, but I'm unsure that a majority of Democratic voters will GET an uplifting message of hope from a brooding, platitude-preaching 2008 candidate.
The senator's staff needs to remind him that dour rarely wins the day, much less the election.
The Verdict on Obama: At the top of the heap, but still honing his message.
Obama holds exactly the right "progressive, practical, common sense" stances, but will he continue to connect magically and magnetically with Democratic crowds?