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Bill Richardson in Denver: `I’m So Glad To Back In California’

July 27, 2008

Just as John McCain inched ahead in the polls here in Colorado, several hundred canvassers for Barack Obama met at the SEIU building on Alameda Ave to begin a full scale door to door campaign. The event was part of a campaign to canvas 70 locations this weekend throughout Colorado in support of the Democratic candidate.

Elsewhere, at the convention center where the Democratic Party Convention will take place, several thousand party activists came together to get volunteer assignments for the three day event scheduled for the end of August. All this less than a month from the upcoming Democratic National Convention to be held here in Denver, needless to say, the talk of the town.

The Denver Canvassers got a boost from New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, a popular figure among Colorado Dems, in town for two days to re-energize Obama’s campaign. He has been traveling throughout the country to rally Latino voters in particular to Obama’s side.

Still, although this canvassing event was held in the largely (75%) working class Chicano precinct with a large Asian (Vietnamese, Chinese) constituency as well, the overwhelming majority of canvassers in the room were white. Those percentages carried over even more strikingly to Obama’s prep-school-virtually-lilly-white staff as well. Few of Colorado’s Democratic Party leaders were present either, although City Councilman Paul Lopez, a former organizer for SEIU Local 105, gave Richardson a nice introduction, making mention of the late state representative Richard Castro. Also present were state legislators Benavidez, Frangas and Ferrandino.

It should not be surprising that Richardson is an excellent public speaker who knows how to connect to his audience with a combination of humor, rhetoric and admittedly, some substance. Still, the enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by his geographical imprecision: `I’m so glad to be back in California’, he told the audience of Denverites. You’d think, coming from a neighboring state, it wouldn’t have been too hard to get that right. Several of us were also distracted, waiting for the button on his tightly fitting sports coat, barely withstanding the pressure, to explode off of his chest and into the audience. Didn’t happen, but it was close.

Although Coloradoans would like to believe otherwise, our state has not had much strategic importance in the general scheme of things in presidential elections. I said so in 2004 at a public event and was chastised (once again) for my cynicism by several in the audience. Richardson seemed to be aware of this general – and well documented – perception in his remarks. Trying to counter it, he referred to Colorado as one of four `key states’ – along with Florida, New Mexico and Nevada – where a 1% swing in the electorate could determine the presidential outcome for those state, and in a close election – the choice of the president. Not sure how accurate that is, but it did work to give a sense of urgency to the canvassing effort and helped convince those in the room that their efforts might count.

Although not particularly concrete – such stump speeches rarely are – Richardson recovered from his California remark with generally progressive substance. After defending his decision not to support his good friend Hillary Clinton – I admit that did take a modicum of political courage – he went on to praise Obama’s trip to Europe and the Middle East describing the Dem presidential hopeful as `someone who comes along once in a generation’. He promised that Obama would be `union-friendly’, and basically laid out a progressive agenda: ending the war in Iraq, transferring spending from war to social programs, a need for greater attention to the environment and the need for the country to convert from an oil based energy economy to more ecological minded energy sources.

So he pushed the right political buttons and didn’t lose the one on his sports coat – and the audience, an animated and committed group – responded accordingly. Wonder if he’ll tell Los Angelans how happy he is to be in Denver and if so many political dinners later, his button will finally pop.

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