Something happened overnight. Democratic candidates got tough.
They acted like this was an elimination contest, not a job interview. They took on Greg Walden. They got better at this.
Democratic candidates faced off in a joint appearance in Medford. It was the same format as the event in Ashland the day prior, but the candidates treated it differently. In Ashland on Wednesday, they competed on the basis of resume and biography. In Medford on Thursday they competed on who could best articulate the case against Walden.
The big truth remains the same. Democrats have decided on what policies are acceptable and what it means to be a Democrat. There is no deviation: Democrats want: Health care for everyone. Protect Medicaid expansion. Oppose "repeal and replace" the ACA. Support DACA kids. Regulate guns. Tax the rich and corporations not the poor and middle class. Support reproductive freedom.
Yet all the candidates shifted overnight. They discovered overnight that they were offering the public a choice, among each other and then a choice against Walden.
Most of the change showed up as tone. Tone is the important thing.
|Six Candidates Speak. Medford Rematch|
Michael Byrne spoke first. "I am pissed," he said. Working people like him are not represented. The prior day he was frustrated, now he is indignant.
Tim White spoke next. His slogan calls himself "A Fighter for Oregon's 2nd District" and he Thursday evening he sounded like one. The new tax bill increases the standard deduction but eliminates personal exemptions and White said this is just slight of hand for regular Americans. He sounded indignant and animated. He spoke to the hypocrisy of supposed public philanthropists who made their money hooking Americans on OxyContin. He spoke to the billions being sent to defense contractors while Walden calls a minuscule increase in the pay of soldiers and sailors as "the largest pay raise in 8 years." That is a lie. White didn't like it.
Candidate after candidate stood and delivered. Eric Burnette said that Oregon exported grain and that it was good trade and he was proud to have been a part of it. Jamie McLeod Skinner said she shoveled horse manure in high school and that she burned with patriotism having served alongside American troops in Kosovo. Jim Crary told people to go to www.opensecrets.org and see the heavy hand of campaign donations that took control of Greg Walden. Jennifer Neahring addressed the injustice and immorality of risking 425,000 people losing their health care because of actions endorsed by Greg Walden in repealing the ACA.
Written transcripts of the event might not expose the difference between the two events but it is obvious in their spoken presentations. Walden wasn't simply incorrect, he had robbed people of something vital. The tax bill wasn't misguided, it was immoral and offensive. The tone changed for each candidate. They were different from Greg Walden. The election mattered.
One of the candidates--White-- referenced this blog, saying that it suggested the candidates be angry, but that he was not going to do so. In fact, yesterday's blog post did not make that as a suggestion, only an observation that the tone was more NPR rather than talk radio. Having denied that he would change his tone, changing his tone is exactly what he did. He--and the others--spoke with moral intensity that was missing the day prior.
In private conversations with several of the candidates I have heard a persistent theme: not wanting to "appear negative." One candidate said that appearing negative would turn off Republican and Independent voters. Other candidates said that negativity looks shrill when voiced by a woman, that it comes across as destructive rather than positive, and that it fails to communicate their genuine spirit of optimism and progress.
Of the six candidates the two female candidates, McLeod Skinner and Neahring, were the least confrontational of the six candidates, the ones most rooted to non-controversial biography, and the ones whose tone shifted the least. McLeod Skinner talked about family roots, relatives in Ashland, Medford, Jordon Valley, farming, ranching, local schools. Neahring talks about being physician and the lens it gives for seeing the country's problems and solutions. Neither displayed the moral outrage expressed by Bryne, White, Burnette, and Clary.
What did not happen. Sometimes the most important thing to notice is what did not happen. None of the six candidates acted as if they were in a contest against each other, which of course, they are. That one will probably win with a plurality of perhaps 30 or 35 percent. No one is separating themselves from the pack on the basis of an issue.
How could one win a plurality? By saying something that the other candidates would disagree with. By saying something that some members of the audience would disagree with.
Democrats are divided still on issues of Bernie vs, Hillary, between city and rural, between methods for expanding health care. A candidate who gets 35% of the Democratic vote will likely win the election. No one has staked out a controversial position. It is one of the ongoing theories of this blog that one gets support by being opposed by someone, and that any point of view with 100% concurrence is just political filler. No Democrat has yet staked out and advocated a position that would gain them support of a significant niche, solidified by it being disagreed with by others. .
What might work? Jamie McLeod Skinner might emphasize her sexual orientation. No one disagrees with her having District roots and having done farm work, so that information is pleasant but not "sticky." But being courageously gay, demonstrating a stark example of courage and transparency, makes a statement: strong enough to come out, strong enough to take on powerful interest groups. Some people will disapprove and that helps her. Nasty things some people might say about her would push other people to support her. That gets her to 35%.
Jennifer Neahring might be sharply critical of some aspect of the health care system, saying things that would surprise an audience, e.g. "Physicians are awesomely overpaid." The best thing that could happen to her candidacy would be for some well paid physician specialist (ophthalmologist?) to protest that statement, angrily. There is little sympathy for income maintenance of physicians who make well upwards of $500,000 a year. Rich specialists are angry with her? Great! She would look courageous and forthright, having created controversy in her pursuit of justice and affordable health care. That might get her to 35%.
Tim White might voice in open presentations the angry words he uses in his slogan ("Fighter") and his blog. White's blog reads as if it were written by a fighter, but he sounds aloud like he is giving a power point presentation at a corporate boardroom. If people think he is "too scrappy" and too much like a bulldog, and they complain about it publicly it would be the best thing that could happen to him. There is currently no scrappy bulldog in the group of six. I suspect 35% of the District's Democrats want a scrappy fighter who willing to be a courageous truth-teller and willing to be criticized for it. We have six nice-guy candidates. There is a niche here for someone who gets in Walden's face.
Jim Crary might openly say that it is inevitable that he will be badly outspent in both the primary and the general election and that he may well lose because of it. Say aloud that his campaign is a crusade. There may well be 35% of the primary electorate who want to send a message of defiance. They aren't just voting yes for Crary, they are voting no to Pfizer and Humana.
And any of the candidates might take a contrary position on immigration. The Barbara Jordon/Bill Clinton position on immigration endorsed a strong border. There is a progressive case to be made for immigration being like good, strong medicine, something that needs careful dosing and control. Some people will disagree and say the candidate sold out. That helps that candidate get to 35%. A lot of Democrats like immigration but also want Democrats to say they like borders, too.
So far, no one is separating him or her self from the pack on policies. Everyone agrees. Everyone says agreeable things. I suspect the winner of the Democratic primary will be the one who appears to stand out.