For Democratic Party delegates from rural California, watching the Democrats take Congress and make other significant political gains across the country must have been like being home sick and watching longingly from an upstairs window while all the other kids frolic and play outside.
No, life ain't never been easy for blue voters in red California. Especially, when they feel like the Democratic Party has left them for dead.
While most attention was focused on Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Kucinich (yes, Kucinich), the presidential candidates wouldn't storm the San Diego Convention Center until Saturday. On Friday, these rural delegates were determined to change the way the party treats Republican-dominated districts.
But they ended up in that lonely chair in the upstairs window again.
Their crusade drew the attention of Party Chairman Art Torres, who made a rare appearance at Friday's Resolutions Committee meeting to personally snuff out the insurgency-er, urge the committee he had appointed to refer the resolutions to a subcommittee.
"Never, ever, ever, ever have I seen Art Torres come down and visit a committee at all," said Leon Thompson, a delegate from Santee. "I mean, that is so below him to do that.
Thompson is the author of one of the resolutions that, in a nutshell, seek more party attention, training and, most importantly, money for rural, Republican districts. Thompson's resolution sought $50,000 in seed money for Democratic candidates running against Republican incumbents or for open seats, and another $50,000 if the candidate matches the initial $50,000 and enlists at least 50 volunteers.
All that would add up to roughly $4 million, Thompson said, matching the amount leftover from the 2006 election and subsequently handed over to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez to pay for Democratic retreats, strategists and polling.
"We want the $4 million that was left on the table the last time around," Thompson said.
Party leaders say that would be a waste of precious resources. Their strategy is to funnel as much money as possible into the campaigns of Democrats locked in tight races, especially incumbents under attack.
"Sometimes people think it's so simple," said veteran Democratic Party strategist Bob Mulholland. He often hears activists say they have 40 percent of the vote sewn up, and they just need a little money to push them over the top.
"The first 40 percent in a lot of these districts is free," Mulholland said. "The next 10 percent is a million and a half dollars. As soon as you send in 10 or 20 or 50 [thousand dollars], the other side says ‘Incoming!' and they pour the money in. I don't know what it is about people that think our team can win every race, or we have unlimited money."
Mulholland listed the statistics: Democrats hold 48 of 80 seats in the state Assembly, 25 of 40 seats in the state Senate, 34 of 53 seats in the California delegation in the House of Representatives (including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and six of eight statewide elective offices (lieutenant governor, etc.) Republicans, he noted, haven't taken a presidential election in the state since 1988.
Thompson has statistics of his own.
"This last election, we gained 36 seats in Congress," he said. "We gained six senators. We turned over 12 statehouses. We turned over six governors. But in California, we didn't do a thing. We didn't gain a single Assembly member; we didn't gain a single state senator. We only turned over one congressman"-and that was through a grassroots campaign with only eleventh-hour help from the party.
At the Resolutions Committee meeting, Torres complained that everyone wants to spend money, but no one seems to want to help raise it.
"We work our butts off to raise money," he said. "Try to ask somebody: ‘Give me money. I'm gonna lose. My race is basically a death-march to the sea, but I need your money anyway.' Just try to raise money under those conditions."
None of the ideas these rural, progressive delegates brought forward made it out of the Resolutions Committee.
Torres, Thompson said, "basically put the resolutions in a box, buried 'em in the ground, stomped 'em, beat 'em up, blew 'em up-no way, we're not talking about it, forget it."
In Thompson's neck of the woods, in East County, there are four Democrats in 52 elective offices. "This is what happens when the party abandons a district," he said. "If you completely abandon a region like that, the Republicans come in and they just slowly take over everything-from the water board to the school boards."
Sure, it's reasonable that there would be more Republicans elected than Democrats, but he says voter registration is 165,000 Republicans vs. 125,000 Democrats with another 20,000 voters declining to state their affiliation. "So, there should be some balance, and if we [can get] some strong campaigns and at least a few Democrats in key positions to keep their feet to the fire, then they'll stop using us as guinea pigs for their right-wing-extremist experiments."
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