There was a palpable feeling of energy at the convention, a sense that this time around, the Democrats might actually be ready to win the White House.
On the convention floor the mood was festive as Hillary Clinton strode through a side entrance and walked past a mob of supporters to the stage. Her speech was about what I expected - standard stump lines, but well delivered and full of energy. She had the crowd with her for about 10 minutes, until she mentioned Iraq - at which point the boos and catcalls began, the people in the seats got restive, and the mood was shattered. "She still won't apologize," one young delegate told me, shaking her head.
Barack Obama looked like the rock star he is, jogging through the entrance with a huge smile. In person he looks like he's barely out of his 20s - and his army, while smaller then Clinton's, was more diverse and a lot younger. He's a dynamic speaker and got a huge ovation when he announced that "I stood up in 2002, when it wasn't popular to stand up, and said [the war] was a bad idea."
Obama split without talking to the press. Clinton arrived 20 minutes late to a packed press conference and said very little of note.
John Edwards, who spoke Sunday morning, April 29, got his own star treatment and demonstrated a key difference with Clinton when he announced that "I voted for this war, and I was wrong to vote for this war." He was also the only candidate who actually talked about poverty in America. He showed up on time for his press availability; I managed to get the first question.
"Senator," I said, "the 25 top hedge fund managers in this country made enough money between them last year to pay the salaries of all 88,000 New York City public school teachers for three years. I know you want to repeal the Bush tax cuts, but beyond that, shouldn't we actually raise taxes on the very rich so we can pay the teachers a little better?"
"It's a good question," he said, "and it's worthy of consideration." But for now, Edwards won't go beyond restoring the tax code to its Bill Clinton-era levels, which are still far, far too rewarding to the tiny segment of the country that earns and controls the vast majority of the income and wealth.
I got to ask Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut the same question; he kindly agreed to a private interview and gave me 10 minutes or so. He, like Edwards, was kinda sorta maybe willing to consider raising taxes on people who make upward of $250 million a year.
I suppose this is progress.
All the liberal bloggers came to the April 27 evening fundraiser for Jerry McNerney, who defeated Ricahrd Pombo, and Charlie Brown, a Democrat who wants to unseat John Doolittle in congressional District 4 (north of Sacramento). Brown is a favorite of the blogosphere; he's also a candidate who was barely on the official party radar when he ran in 2006.
All that has changed dramatically - with Doolittle circling the drain and Brown showing surprising strength. Even Pelosi plugged him from the convention stage.
But the only elected official I saw at the fundraiser was Assemblymember Mark Leno.
The people in the room represented a very different approach to state politics. It's not even an entirely ideological division; it's more about a form of activism. The bloggers (who aren't just writing about the party but trying to change it) are still the party outsiders now - but they've already raised more money for Brown than any other single source, mostly in small contributions. And I suspect that if he gets elected, he'll remember the people who were there for him first.
The outsiders still don't understand how all the hardball politics work at conventions, but they're learning. They're also emerging as a tremendous force in American politics, and in California they're knocking, loudly, on the state party doors.