DNC has no good answer to Martin O'Malley's case for more debates

Three days have passed since presidential candidate Martin O’Malley blasted the Democratic National Committee’s “cynical move to delay and limit our own Party debates” during a speech to members and leaders at the DNC’s summer meeting. I enclose below the full text of O’Malley’s remarks, as prepared. The first section presses his case against the “unprecedented,” “rigged process” for allowing only six presidential candidate debates. O’Malley noted that just four debates are scheduled before the early caucuses and primaries, and “the New Hampshire debate is cynically wedged into the high point of the holiday shopping season so as few people watch it as possible.” For those who haven’t had a chance to see O’Malley campaign yet, the other sections of his remarks are adapted from his standard stump speech.

I have yet to hear any good argument for limiting presidential debates. You won’t find any response to O’Malley on the DNC’s official website. While the governor’s comments about debates were the big news from the summer meeting, dominating most media coverage of the event, the DNC’s Twitter feed picked this bland quote to highlight: “‘Whether or not we make the American Dream true again for all American families is up to us.’ -@MartinOMalley #dems15”

At the Iowa State Fair, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn’t be distracted from her laundry list of talking points to respond to hecklers demanding more debates. Nor could she be bothered to engage with O’Malley’s substantive case last Friday. CNN reported that Wasserman Schultz “spent most of the speech looking down at a table just feet from the governor,” rarely clapping. Asked about O’Malley’s claim that it might be illegal for the national party to prohibit candidates from debating in non-sanctioned forums, the DNC leader told CNN, “I am quite confident that the process we have established is directly compliant with our rules and completely legal, whatever that means.” But why is she so set on those rules?

Conventional wisdom says the DNC intervened in the process to put a thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton. Although long-shot candidates arguably have more to gain from debates than the front-runner, I reject the premise that the DNC’s asinine policy helps Clinton. She and all Democrats would benefit from a large national audience watching five (or perhaps six) candidates intelligently discuss issues that matter to people’s lives. More important, Democratic voters should have more than a handful of chances to see our candidates side by side.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa State Fair heckling edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Saturday was the final day for politicians to speak at the Des Moines Register’s Iowa State Fair “soapbox.” You can view all of this year’s videos here. Heckling was the running theme from yesterday’s appearances. O.Kay Henderson summarized the incidents at Radio Iowa.

I have zero sympathy for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, whom protesters repeatedly interrupted to demand more Democratic presidential debates. Wasserman-Schultz had nothing new to say on the soapbox–certainly nothing as newsworthy as the DNC’s asinine policy limiting the presidential candidates to only six sanctioned debates, with the threat of exclusion if they participate in any unsanctioned ones. The DNC’s position serves no public interest whatsoever. It only creates the appearance of the party establishment putting a thumb on the scale for current front-runner Hillary Clinton. All Democrats, including Clinton, could benefit from starting the debates before October. In sharp contrast to the Donald Trump freak show dominating the other side’s discourse, Democrats have five (perhaps soon to be six) candidates who can talk intelligently about policy.

A group of protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provided some drama by storming the soapbox while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was taking questions. Tactics like those make PETA one of the most ineffective advocacy organizations I’ve seen. Christie deserves criticism for vetoing a New Jersey ban on gestation crates for sows, which passed with massive bipartisan support. But PETA only managed to generate sympathy for the governor. He came up with a great line after law enforcement pulled the animal rights activists off-stage:

“I have to tell you the truth when something like that happens and I’m here in Iowa, man, I feel right at home. It feels like I’m back in Jersey for a couple of minutes, so thank you, Iowa, for doing that,” Christie said to cheers from the crowd.

On the other hand, a little heckling that doesn’t go over the top can throw a candidate off his or her game. The best example was the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member who got Mitt Romney to say, “Corporations are people, my friend,” at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Democrats across the country eagerly made use of Romney’s gaffe. Within a matter of weeks, though, Iowa CCI members’ heckling of Senator Chuck Grassley at a town-hall in Carroll drew criticism from Iowa Democratic Party leaders for going too far.

Politically engaged people tend to have strong feelings about what kinds of protests are appropriate. Pat Rynard used unusually harsh language to condemn the activists who disrupted Wasserman-Schultz’s speech. John Deeth has long expressed contempt for Iowa CCI’s “counterproductive” tactics. Though I’ve never heckled a politician at a public event, my take on what I viewed as the Iowa Democratic Party’s “hippie-punching” of Iowa CCI generated one of the most heated comment threads in Bleeding Heartland’s eight-year history.

When, if ever, do you think heckling is a justified and/or effective political tactic?

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Safe House incumbents need to pay their DCCC dues

Representative Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has appointed two out of the DCCC’s three vice chairs. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is the DCCC Vice Chair for incumbent retention. Bruce Braley of Iowa will be responsible for “offensive efforts including recruitment, money, and training.”

The third vice chair, yet to be named, “will seek to increase House member participation in DCCC efforts,” which presumably means getting more safe Democratic incumbents to pay their DCCC dues.

That’s going to be a big job, since the DCCC ended the 2008 campaign some $21 million in debt.

The debt has reportedly been reduced to $13 million, with the help of a $3.5 million transfer from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But that is still a large debt, especially since Democrats have a lot of one-term and two-term representatives to defend in 2010, which will probably be a less favorable political environment.

According to Politico,

Democrats are gearing up for a tougher, more defensive cycle. While Democrats want to take advantage of Obama’s bank account, party officials are anxious about getting out of the red and are telling members and donors to pay up – quickly.

Democratic leaders put the squeeze on last month, asking each member in a memo for $35,000 before Christmas. The memo also listed, by name, those who had paid their committee dues and those who hadn’t.

Shortly before the election, Chris Bowers spearheaded an effort to put grassroots pressure on safe Democratic incumbents who had not paid their DCCC dues. We all have a lot on our plate this year, and Bowers is recovering from a broken arm, but the netroots need to assist the DCCC vice chair for member participation once that person has been named. We should not wait until a few weeks before the 2010 election to start pressuring incumbents who are delinquent on DCCC dues. The sooner the DCCC retires its debt, the easier it will be to recruit strong challengers and build a healthy bank balance for the next campaign.

If you are willing to help with this effort in any way (such as compiling a spreadsheet showing who has not paid and how to contact those representatives), please post a comment in this thread.

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Braley named Vice Chair of DCCC

Bruce Braley was elected to Congress in 2006 with the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program. In 2008 he helped manage the DCCC’s Red to Blue efforts. For the next election cycle, he’s been promoted again:

The DCCC today named the second of its three Vice Chairs – Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services, responsible for the DCCC’s offensive efforts including recruitment, money, and training.  

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said, “The DCCC will stay aggressive this cycle and continue to challenge Republicans who are out of step with their districts.  As a former chair and former member of the Red to Blue program, Bruce Braley knows first hand what it takes to be a successful candidate; his battle tested leadership will be a real asset to our candidates facing tough elections.”

Congressman Bruce Braley brings his experience as chair of the DCCC’s successful and effective 2008 Red to Blue Program and as a former member of the Red to Blue Program.

Vice Chair Bruce Braley said, “I’m looking forward to continuing my work at the DCCC in this new leadership role.  It’s critical for us to continue assisting our candidates with the money, messaging and mobilization they will need to get elected in the 2010 election cycle.  I will work hard to help our candidates win their races.”

Congressman Bruce Braley will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services.  The DCCC’s candidate services include recruiting, money, and training.  A Vice Chair focusing on Member participation will be named at a later date.

Last month, Van Hollen named Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida the DCCC Vice Chair for incumbent retention. Given her refusal to endorse three Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents in south Florida, it was appropriate for Van Hollen to remove her from a leadership role in the Red to Blue program.

The third vice chair “will seek to increase House member participation in DCCC efforts,” which presumably means getting more safe Democratic incumbents to pay their DCCC dues.

So Braley’s niche will be finding and capitalizing on opportunities to pick up Republican-held seats. 2010 is likely to be a more challenging environment for Democratic candidates than the past two cycles, but it’s good to know the DCCC is planning to remain on offense as well. We have a chance to achieve a political realignment, given the Democratic advantages with certain demographic groups in recent elections. Building on our success in 2006 and 2008 will require the DCCC to do more than protect our own vulnerable incumbents.

Good luck to Representative Braley in his new role. He’ll be quite busy the next couple of years, with a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a Populist Caucus to lead.

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