Saturday, October 30, 2010

Obama in Charlottesville: thoughts and observations

Background: Obama was in Charlottesville to support incumbent Representative Democrat Tom Perriello in his re-election campaign against Robert Hurt in Virginia’s 5th District (VA-5). Perriello came to office in 2008, riding Obama’s coattails to beat a long time Republican incumbent by~ 700 votes. Since the 2008 election pundits on both sides have recognized that the VA-5 race 2010 is a key battleground, testing both the approval of Obama’s policies, and seeing if a normally Republican district had undergone a long-term change. Polls suggest that Perriello trails Hurt by 6-10%, with Obama’s visit testing his ability to impact the race.

(Author’s background: I’m an independent voter, leaning Libertarian (i.e. towards economic conservatism and mildly liberal social policies, though abhorring progressivism.) I voted for Perriello in 2008, but will be voting for Hurt in 2010. See the bottom of this post for my voting rationale.)

-Obama gave a very good, positive speech, heavy on the change theme, definitely exciting his base and the crowd. Discussion of the Obama administration’s accomplishments/achievements/initiatives were surprisingly light. I didn’t feel like he was trying to sell any new or old programs, but rather to appeal to people with his vision. My guess is that this is Obama’s comfort zone, and what the crowd really wanted to hear, rather than a pitch for expanded infrastructure investment (for example).
Quick observations:

-He spoke for a solid half-hour off of a telepromptr.

-1 mention of Iraq, no mention of Afghanistan, no mention of terrorism (odd, given the news of the day (Yemen)).

-There was zero name calling and almost no jabs aimed at “the other party.” No Republicans were named in the speech (though he did make a reference to the Minority Leader). A couple of references were made to ‘special interests.’

-Obama listed several reasons why the US is in the dumps economically, but I do not believe he named any of the actual, substantive causes. (Fannie Mae…….) Several times he made reference how the economic crisis was due to Republican policies. Almost as many times Obama pointedly stated that there would have been a second Great Depression if he hadn’t taken the necessary steps. (Like TARP, though that word was definitely not used.)

-Side note: Obama used first-person personal pronouns exclusively – “I avoided another Great Depression,” and “I put into effect a $2,500 tuition tax credit.” I can’t recall when he referred to “We,” or “our efforts.” Some would like the fact that he's taking ownership of the issues and outcomes, while some would say that this is another example of the cult of the presidency.

-No mention of the payback and financial return of the bank bailout. I guess that issue is nuclear.

-Obama definitely did NOT directly tie the 2010 election to his. As in “a vote for Tom is a vote for me.” This message was present, though unstated.

-There was a bit of demagoguery aimed at insurance companies, banks, and big business. Whatever makes you feel better, buddy………

-There was repeated of mention of the need to vote for Perriello to continue the change started in 2008, but the change was largely abstract, and there was never really any allusion to a tangible outcome or benefit for voters or America. (As an counterexample, it could have been “In 2011, we want to change _______, and we need Tom’s vote to make the change happen.”) To me, this is equivalent to a salesman making a pitch, but never asking for the business. It might also be an either an indication that the Obama administration doesn’t really have any idea of where to go to next, or an admission that the agenda is likely to change with the new Congress, and it might not be Obama’s agenda to write.

-On the other hand, Perriello, who preceded the President, sounded like Santa Claus handing out gifts from a goody bag, the repeated theme being “I helped bring 1,800 green jobs to Charlottesville…. I got a $2,500 tuition tax credit approved, which is now being used by X# of people in our district……” His argument was basically vote for me and you’ll all get more goodies worth more in value than what you’re giving up in taxes. (Not hard when the Federal government spends ~35% more than tax revenue taken in.)

-Estimated attendance at the event by the Cville Fire Marshal: 9,000 in the pavilion, 3,000 outside (where I was). I don’t think Fire Marshals are selected for their math skills, as these are pretty badly inflated –various websites and press releases list the capacity of the Pavilion at (alternatively) 900, 1,100, or 3,500 people. I’d say of those figures, 3,500 is most reasonable, though a bit high. If you get rid of aisles, and pack people in, I could see it getting to ~5,000 people inside.  I was in the first 20 feet of the area outside the Pavilion, and had the sense that there were a lot of people behind me, but because of the dark and the narrowness of the Downtown Mall, I couldn’t estimate what that total was, though based on  how easy my post-rally walk from Downtown Mall was, I can’t believe there were 3,000 people outside the Pavilion, nor 12,000 people alongside or behind me overall.

-My spot for the rally was just a few feet away from the Free Speech Wall on the Downtown Mall – pretty close in. Nonetheless, I never actually saw the President as I was still ~800 feet away from the stage. Luckily, the sound system was turned up for Obama’s speech, so the event was still electrifying.

-Security was nowhere near as prominent as I expected. Sure, there were Uniformed Secret Service to go along with city and county police, as well as plain clothes Secret Service traveling with the President, but security personnel and procedures did not seem out of line with the event. After the speech I waited around to see the Presidential motorcade which was very exciting, but not as overwhelming as I guessed. The whole entourage returning to the Charlottesville airport was ~7 cars, including State Police. I always had assumed that Presidents traveled with a long tail (everything from a physician to guys carrying briefcases with nuclear launch codes), but it looked more like a family outing – albeit one with armored Chevy Suburbans and a police escort.

A few other surprises to me:

-I stood in a pack of several hundred people and at the peak of pre-speech anticipation, I heard a few feet away from me a tiny dog yapping his brains out. Who brings a dog to a political rally, and who puts that dog on the ground in the forest of  attendees?

-The Uniformed Secret Service agents looked only slightly more alert and physically imposing than shopping mall rent-a-cops.

-I never saw a protester of any variety, and never even saw campaign signs of any flavor. A few people wore Perriello stickers, but that’s it.

-Having Air Force One fly overhead is undeniably cool. We didn't get the real 747 AF One but rather a twin-engine 757 or 767. Glad I didn't go to the airport (my other choice) expecting to see the big bird, and miss this event.

The crowd was enthusiastic and impressive in its’ commitment. Some started queuing in the morning (Obama went on around 8pm).  I talked with some folks who as of 7pm had been in line for 1.5 hours and they not only didn’t have a prayer of getting in, I wouldn’t be surprised if they never even got within sight of the Pavilion (if they stayed in line.) My guess is that is if you weren’t in line 3.5 hours before the event, you weren’t getting in.

The biggest roar was in support of the healthcare bill.

I noticed from conversations around me that a good percentage of the attendees were from out of the area - maybe 20-30% of the crowd around me based on questions about where the good restaurants were, or overheard cellphone conversations. With such a high out-of-area presence, one might wonder how effective the rally was for Perriello in VA-5. I guess we’ll find out this Tuesday.

My voting rationale: IMHO, Perriello has done a good job servicing the district, and has certainly put his all towards the job. He’s the rare Democrat in 2010 running on the Obama record, which his voting supported, instead of trying to run from it, to Tom’s credit.

But this means that the VA-5 election is a referendum on Obama’s Presidency, which I am frankly very, very disappointed in, in just about every dimension. (I’ll save my analysis & opinion of the Obama administration for another post.)

Perriello is also an underwhelming character. As a progressive he has all of the solutions for everything but too na├»ve and ineffective to realize that most of the solutions are either impractical and uneconomic, driven by special interests, or ideas selected for their appearance rather than their effectiveness. He voted in step with his party on all of the major issues, and there’s every indication that when he didn’t, it was with the blessing of the Speaker & Majority Whip.

Perriello’s peer in shortcomings is his opponent, Robert Hurt. I’d like to provide a strong list of Hurt’s positives, but instead I’d say that he is generally underwhelming, and too blindly partisan. His main attribute: that he isn’t Tom Perriello.


Kevin said...

Naivety vs blindly partisan. Great choices. Though Perriello also sounds blindly partisan...

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, I don't mind the Repugs taking the House as that means Pelosi will be out as Speaker.

Anonymous said...

In Timmy's words, "His (Hurt) main attribute: that he isn’t Tom Perriello."

And so was the reason I voted for McCain in '08 (he wasn't Obama) and why I voted for Bush before that (he wasn't John Kerry). So here we go again...

Anyway, very good (and neutral, thank you!) review of the event. Thanks T.

nico said...

Hmmm.. blind vs naive?Attempting to implement plans that address his constituents' genuine needs, fearlessly ignoring an absence of the resources or the logistical excellence required for success, demonstrate Periello's naivite, yet they also show his heart over head approach to problem resolution. If he is supplied with good advisors, and if he recognizes that he needs the assistance of pragmatic and knowledgeable people, Periello can be turned into the sort of legislator who lifts up his community. Hurt's just happy to serve as a Republican lackey if they put him in power; if he's too cowardly& lazy to think for himself, how could he be trusted to serve Virginians when addressing their needs runs contrary to the Republican agenda? More like Blind& dumb vs naive..

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