Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hillary vs. Obama, Etc.


This past Sunday was Democratic Smackdown Day in downtown Oakland. Hillary Clinton came back to the Bay Area for a huge campaign rally at 14th and Clay. The Clinton team pushed hard to get a big turnout, making robo-calls to random cell phones, to generate a crowd. Unfortunately, five of those random calls went to the phone of Barack Obama's California campaign director, Mitchell Schwartz. By sheer coincidence, he was planning to open Obama's Northern California headquarters a block away (at 14th and Broadway) the next afternoon. But upon learning about Hillary's event, he moved the shindig up a day, to try to steal some of Hillary's thunder.

The Obama camp put on a hiphop rally, starring local rappers Blackalicious. They gave out stickers and sold buttons. They brought in local elected officials who have endorsed Obama. They cut the ribbon on their first campaign office outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (Oakland even got one before Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago). The sparsely furnished office smelled of brand new industrial carpet, and eager young volunteers sparred over which folding table should go where. But they were missing one key ingredient: Obama. The Illinois Senator was campaigning elsewhere, vacuuming up campaign contributions on the last day of the third quarter fundraising period.

That kept the crowd down to about 500 people or so. As the Obama party was in as full a swing as it was going to get, thousands started lining up across the street for the Hillary rally, attended by Hillary herself. That crowd probably topped ten thousand eventually; Clinton organizers claimed 14,000, but that seemed generous to me. But it was laid out in an awkward fashion. Instead of using the crowd-friendly plaza in front of City Hall, as Obama did earlier this year, Clinton's people set up their stage in the middle of an intersection, and packed her fans down the side streets. This left thousands craning their necks from about a block away, trying to catch a glimpse of the Senator. I didn't hear much grumbling about it though; the crowd was enthusiastic, and thrilled to get even that close to the woman they hope will be president.

Both rallies aimed for Oaktown street cred, with R&B artists, African American religious leaders, and black local officeholders. But there was also a distinctly San Francisco flavor to this Oakland showdown. The biggest name on hand for Obama was San Francisco's DA, Kamala Harris. The mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums, avoided both events...but San Francisco's Mayor, Gavin Newsom, was on stage with Hillary and spoke on her behalf. Clinton paraded a who's who of Bay Area black preachers, but they were all from San Francisco, led by the venerable Rev. Cecil Williams. It's pretty clear Hillary and Barack are waging an all-out war for the black vote, which polls show is split right down the middle between them. It's not good news for Obama that Clinton is doing so well among his presumed natural constituency, especially when women are breaking heavily for Hillary, and accounting for much of her huge lead in the national polls.

Mayor Dellums endorsed Hillary the next day, at a separate event, which took the Obama campaign by surprise. His handlers had no idea they had lost the fight for the mayor's nod, until they were notified by reporters, minutes before the announcement. Dellums' clout has faded nationally, but he still has tremendous moral authority among the black community, and his face and name will mean on a lot on those Election Eve mailers, when undecided voters are wavering between Clinton and Obama.


My favorite typo this election season was on the Associated Press wire the other day. It was in a story about how Rudy Giuliani is trash-talking about Hillary on the campaign trail, boasting about his own electability, and dismissing the chances of his Republican rivals. Except the story said Rudy is touting his "delectability," instead of electability. Does anyone other than Judy Nathan really find Rudy delectable? And even then, only when he's wearing one of his dresses. Which is probably why the AP later moved a correction, saying it meant electable, not delectable.


The number-crunching isn't done yet, but Hillary had an astounding third quarter of fundraising, raking in more than $22 million, surpassing not just Obama but even her own campaign's expectations. We'll talk more about this in the next week or two, after all the campaigns turn in their paperwork and we can see where all this money came from. It will also be useful to see how much has been spent, because cash on hand will determine which candidates can afford big media buys in the weeks before the first primaries.


Something always seems slightly amiss when I attend a Hillary Clinton campaign function. The aforementioned logistics at the Oakland rally, for example. The unseemly "upgrade" line at that block party, where attendees had to cough up a 20-dollar bill to get a spot closer to the stage. Then there was the strange scene at the Dellums endorsement announcement, which was held at Laney College in Oakland. Students were barred from the event, which was attended by 75 invited guests, handpicked by Mayor Dellums. Angry college kids jammed the quad below, demanding access, which they were finally granted when the campaign realized it had a PR nightmare waiting to happen. A hundred or so were allowed to stand in the back of the room while Dellums and Clinton spoke, but the editor of the school paper, Reginald James, who's also a student trustee on the college board, said he felt insulted, and wondered why Clinton would hold such an event on a college campus but then exclude students. None of this bodes well for how a Clinton administration would run the country.

You can hear Hillary's speech at the Oakland rally, Mayor Dellums' fiery endorsement of her, and her remarks about Iran, Iraq and Dellums at that event, in the Featured Audio section on the home page, or on iTunes as a podcast.

NEXT TIME: The "secret" internal memos the campaigns send us, to tell us how well they're doing and lay out their strategy.

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