Democratic Candidates Make the Case
Seven Presidential Hopefuls Address Members of the DNC at the Party's Winter Meeting

[Posted February 23, 2003]  Seven of the nine announced Democratic candidates for president spoke to members of the Democratic National Committee at the party's annual winter meeting, held in Washington, DC from February 20-22, 2003.  DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe noted that the meeting was the most well attended in the history of the Democratic party. "And I'm just counting the candidates," he stated.

At least three hundred and seventy of the 441 members of the DNC turned out.  This is a particularly important audience for the candidates to reach; the 441 DNC members are all unpledged delegates to the party's national convention in Boston, accounting for 10 percent of the delegates.

The DNC members, state Democratic party staffers, and other Democratic activists heard the presidential hopefuls lambast President Bush, particularly on his handling of the economy and homeland security, and present their ideas for America's future.  The prospect of a war with Iraq emerged as the sharpest point of distinction among the candidates.  All signs indicate that America will likely initiate war with Iraq within a month; Sen. Joseph Lieberman (CT), Rep. Richard Gephardt (MO) and Sen. John Edwards (NC) supported action to disarm Saddam Hussein, while  former Amb. Moseley-Braun, former Gov. Howard Dean, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich opposed such action.
Lieberman Mosley-Braun Gephardt Dean Sharpton Kucinich Edwards A GOP Response
The candidates' speeches, nominally ten minutes each, were spread over two days so as not to overwhelm members.  In addition, for two hours on Friday "Meet the Candidates" open houses were held in individual suites, affording DNC members the opportunity  to make the rounds and talk with the candidates informally.  Some of the candidates also dropped in at various caucus sessions and at gatherings of the College Democrats and Young Democrats.  Throughout the meeting, the main hotel lobby was a scene of much networking and cross pollination as campaign staffers mingled with the DNC members and party officials.

In addition to the candidates' presentation of their ideas some of the campaigns also deployed goodies.  Most impressive in this regard was the Dean campaign which prepared 400 small cellphane bags for attendees containing Vermont maple syrup, chocolate and coffee.  The Dean campaign also distributed plastic prescription medicine bottles for people to put in contributions of small change.  In the Dean suite Ben & Jerry's ice cream was served.  Members stopping in at Lieberman's suite could get ceramic cup- of-Joe coffee mugs, made in America by union labor.  The Edwards suite had a fair supply of tee-shirts.

Of the announced candidates, Sen. John Kerry (MA), who is recovering from successful surgery for prostate cancer did not attend, nor did Sen. Bob Graham (FL) who has set up an account to raise money for a possible presidential campaign, but is recovering from heart surgery.  Former Sen. Gary Hart and Gen. Wesley Clark, mentioned as possible candidates, had no noticeable presence. Two Al Gore loyalists took it upon themselves to distribute draft Gore flyers in the main lobby.

Click on photos  for more.
Other photos from the meeting.

Technology Upgrade: Project 5104
Democrats are laying the groundwork for their 2004 presidential nominee, whomever he or she may be, to wage a successful campaign against President Bush.  In a briefing on Thursday, McAuliffe acknowledged that 2002 was a "wake-up call for Democrats."  "Something happened that our polling data did not pick up," he stated.  Citing the example of Atlanta, McAuliffe said the Republicans had succeeded in boosting turnout in exurban and rural areas.  Democrats needed better targeting he said.

Under McAuliffe's tenure the Democratic party has undertaken a major technology upgrade.  "Project 5104," shorthand for achieving 51 percent of the vote in 2004, brings together sophisticated software and database applications that will help the party address three major challenges identified by McAuliffe.  At the center of Project 5104 is the voter file.  DNC DataMart has information on 158 million voters.  The DNC spent 18 months building the file, which was finished a week before the 2002 elections.

The first challenge is campaign finance reform.  The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which went into effect following the November 2002 mid-term elections, prohibits large "soft money" contributions to the parties.  McAuliffe has focused on building up the party's small donor database.  He boasts of a 70 percent growth in the donor list, which is approaching 1 million names, and of reducing donor age and markedly improving the net.  A "Demzilla" database allows the party to track and manage all donor contacts.  Demzilla is also connected to the party's website.

McAuliffe termed the second challenge "restoring message contrast."  He went through a litany of problems that have grown and worsened under the Bush administration, from loss of jobs to soaring budget deficits.  Technology will help Democrats to better localize their message he said.

Third, McAuliffe said Democrats need to regain their mobilization advantage.  In fall 2002 Democrats did experiments in several states using the voter file and were able to identify tens of thousands of additional voters who could then be contacted with get out the vote messages.

The Alterian(R) Studio and Market Zone software is, quite simply, astoundingly powerful and easy to use.  A demonstration showed how easy it is to identify low income voters in Missouri, which does not have party registration.  The user can drag and drop icons representing the list of primary voters, the list of general election voters and a list of low income residents.  It functions just like the Venn diagram from school math days, and in a minute or less out comes the desired subset of names and contact information.  The possibilities are almost limitless: single women, moderate income Hispanics, and so forth.

Ultimately, said Doug Kelly, the DNC's director of technology, technology may change the Democratic party itself by getting more people involved and putting "little 'd' democracy back into the party."

McAuliffe: "George Bush is Beatable"
Helping to put all this technology to use will be political strategist Teresa Vilmain, whom McAuliffe announced will be the DNC's general election strategist.  Although the field of presidential candidates is crowded now, McAuliffe asked the candidates to "pledge to come together and support our nominee once the primary process wraps up in the spring of 2004."  After all the candidates had spoken, McAuliffe emphasized three points: George Bush is beatable, Democrats have a great roster of candidates, and the DNC has the right tools.  With that many of the attendees began their journeys home.

Copyright © 2003 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.