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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006
I went to a breakfast Monday morning where Wes Clark was speaking to raise money and volunteers for Steve Filson, a candidate in CA-11. Later in the day, Clark campaigned with Filson in the district.

The situation in California 11 is a bit comparable to IL-6. Jerry McNerney got the nomination against Pombo in 2004, when nobody else wanted it, and ran an effective campaign with a lot of grass roots support. Steve Filson is one of the 'Fighting Democrats' and is the DCCC preferred candidate, but at least some activists who were involved with McNerney '04 are angry over the national party's dismissal of McNerney. A third candidate, Steve Thomas, seems to have less support and is almost certainly too far left to win in what's essentially a red district. Clark has been active in supporting many of the Fighting Dem candidates and recently endorsed Filson, although many Clark activists had been 2004 McNerney volunteers.

CA 11 rarely appears on lists of hot turnover prospects, but I think is a winnable fight. It's the least red district represented by a Republican in CA, having gone to Bush in 2004 by only 8.6%. The demographics are probably moving in a blue direction, with people moving into the district from the very liberal East Bay. And Pombo is potentially vulnerable on his extreme anti-environmental positions which aren't generally known in the district; California voters, even Republicans, tend to be strong environmentalists.

I watched all three Democrats speak recently at an endorsement meeting. The five minute time limit precluded much substance in any of the presentations. On style, McNerney wasn't strong, emphasizing his points with exaggerated theatrical gestures. He also failed to make clear that he has a stronger position than Filson on withdrawal from Iraq, something he should have emphasized before an audience of Democratic activists. Filson was a bit better, but stepped on some of his own lines. Thomas spoke with some passion, but seemed more interested in talking about FDR and the New Deal than in directly addressing more current issues.

For Monday's audience, it was clear that Wes Clark, who got three standing ovations, was the rock star and Filson was the drummer. Still, it was a friendly crowd, and his talk came off better than the previous time I saw him. Some of his speech involves asking rhetorical questions of the audience - interestingly, he likes to paraphrase Newt Gingrich's proposed 'had enough' slogan - and it can be awkward if the audience isn't really responsive.

Clark spoke very well; I've seen him criticised ocasionally as a poor speaker, but that was from the early days of his 04 campaign and definitely doesn't reflect his current skills. He focused on winning the midterms, but said absolutely nothing that would deter expectations he plans to run again in 2008.

On the Filson/McNerney primary dual, which has been bitter at times as this local blog shows, I think it's a close contest. As a speaker, I think Filson is marginally better, with more likelihood of improving to real effectiveness since he's much newer to it than McNerney. Filson argues he is more electable, and it may well be true, but there's no real polling data to back it up. Neither could be rated as especially charismatic by the most generous observer.

McNerney is better on issues, having taking a clear stand for withdrawal from Iraq. McNerney also has interesting ideas about making the district a center for the alternative energies industry, which is his professional background, but it isn't clear how he does that from Washington.

Overall, I'd be happy with either of the major candidates. As in IL-6, some of the grass roots types have shown hostility to the candidate they see as DCCC imposed that could make it hard to unite the party in the fall if their guy loses.