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Convention Recap

Tim Craig

As the 2008 Virginia Democratic Party convention draws to a close, here are eight observations about the weekend's events at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton.

1) If the Democrats' goal was to leave the convention united behind Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), they still have a lot of work to do. Surprisingly, numerous supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY.) said they weren't sure if they would vote for Obama in the fall.

Gloria Guba, a Clinton delegate from Fairfax County, said she doesn't think Obama has the "depth or understanding of both foreign and domestic policies."

"There is a significant number of individuals who have significant reservations about his candidacy," Guba said. "As a result, we are toying with a bunch of possibilities, including voting Republican."

Dreama Lampa of Arlington, who said she has "issues" with Obama's "character," said there is only one way to guarantee that Obama will get her vote.

"If they want party unity, put her on the ticket," Lampa said.

2) The Obama delegate selection process seemed like a mess: With 150 people vying for the dozen remaining Obama delegate slots to the national convention in Denver, passions were running high. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's (D) political staff and the Obama campaign put together a slate that met Democratic National Committee quotas for race and gender.

But those who weren't on it felt shut out. Instead of giving up, many of them used their own money to challenge the establishment slate, printing up fliers and posters.

"I know Governor Kaine is backing a slate and I am not on a slate, but I am doing this for Obama, " said Robin Hyman of Loudoun County, who was placing signs touting her candidacy around the convention hall. "I am a huge supporter of Obama. I want to make my voice heard. I want to cheer for him. I want to hear him speak."

Others who were on the Obama-Kaine slate defended the process.

"Everyone wants to go to Denver," said Cristina Chiappe, 31, of Falls Church. "Not being a party person, I would not be able to go if I were not on a slate."

Charlie Kelly, Kaine's political director, said he and other Democratic officials "worked hard to put a slate together that reflects the Democratic electorate in Virginia" including grassroots Obama supporters.

But when the voting took place, it was clear that many delegates were ignoring the slate, instead voting for individual candidates. The ballot counting dragged on for hours, but the slate that was endorsed by the Obama campaign was eventually elected and will be going to Denver, although some candidates not on the slate are exploring whether any party rules were violated.

3) Keep an eye on Glenn Nye. The Democratic candidate in the 2nd congressional district, Nye will face off against Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.).

Although only 33, Nye has built up an impressive resume, including serving as a diplomat in Iraq. At the convention, Nye's staff took him around for one-on-one meetings with the entire Richmond press corps, including reporters from the western part of the state who probably won't be writing many stories about his race.

Nye also gave a fiery speech that seemed to resonate with the delegates.

The 2nd District, which includes the Virginia Beach area and part of the Eastern Shore, leans Republican, especially in a presidential election year because there is an influx of military voters.

Drake was targeted for defeat in 2006, but she won reelection with 51 percent of the vote, despite the Democratic tide that year.

National Democrats are optimistic that Nye, who has so far raised $300,000, might be able to give Drake another stiff challenge this year.

The second district has a large African-American population, about 21 percent. And with Obama at the top of the ticket, Nye is hoping for a surge in Democratic turnout. Last year, Democrats picked up two House of Delegates and one state Senate seat in the Virginia Beach area.

"I know the Democratic voters are out there, but the question is can we get them to the polls," Nye said. "I think with Obama and Mark Warner, we will be able to do that."

Earlier this month, the Cook Political Report changed its rating for the Virginia's second district from "likely Republican" to "leans Republican," noting Nye's resume and the potential for a big Democratic turnout.

4) Mark R. Warner is ready to take on Gilmore. In his speech to officially accept the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, Warner tried to put to rest any doubts about whether he has the strength to fight back against his combative GOP opponent, former governor James S. Gilmore III.

It was one of Warner's better public performances; he succeeded in rallying both Clinton and Obama supporters to their feet.

Warner framed his race against Gilmore as a contest between someone who wants to bring a fresh approach to Washington versus a Republican offering "more of the same."

"It will be one of the clearest choices we have had in decades," said Warner, who later added, "'You all know my opponent, he likes three word slogans that begin with no."

Warner, also a former governor, began flushing out the policies he will pursue if elected to the Senate. His biggest applause line came when he noted the Iraqi government is sitting on $70 billion in oil profits, Warner claimed.

"It's time for the Iraqis themselves to step up and take responsibility," said Warner, who wants to begin removing U.S. troops from Iraq.

And, in classic Warner style, his campaign put on a colorful show.

All 2,000 activists at the convention were given a red, white and blue Warner signs. As they waved them at the end of his speech, several film crews were filming the convention hall, presumably gathering footage for a future campaign commercial.

Warner also guaranteed that the Sunday morning headlines would be about him because he unequivocally stated he does not want Obama to consider him as a potential vice-presidential candidate.

5) Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) makes a big showing: After taking some heat for failing to attend the state Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner in February, Webb spent the weekend at the convention. He was the guest of honor at a pool party - no he wasn't in a bathing suit - Friday night. He also spoke to the delegates Saturday morning.

"We are not backing down. We are not going away," Webb said, referring to congressional Democrats' efforts to end the war in Iraq.

After his speech, Webb spent about 25 minutes signing books, posing for pictures and glad-handing.

Seven Webb staffers, including several based on Capitol Hill, also attended the convention. They even paid their own way.

6) Jon Bowerbank wins the sign war: Bowerbank, a candidate for lieutenant governor next year, erected what looked like at least 1,000 signs on the road leading to the convention center. A successful businessman from Russell County, Bowerbank looks as if he will have a well-funded campaign, in part because he may use some his own money.

7) It's going to be hard for either Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) or state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) to break through this year: Moran and Deeds are rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor next year.

They both gave speeches, although I missed them. Moran's staff distributed copies of his speech to reporters.

"Together, we're going to end the Republican policies of the past," Moran said. "We'll put an end to the Bush administration's indifference to ordinary Americans."

But because so much of the focus is on the presidential contest, it doesn't seem likely that either Deeds or Moran will be able to emerge as a clear front-runner for the nomination this year.

It looked as if more delegates were wearing Moran stickers - it's a hard thing to judge so don't read too much into it - but Deeds hosted a hospitality suite on Saturday night.

8) Were they really 'fired up and ready to go?" Despite their reputation, Obama's supporters appeared somewhat reserved at times during the convention, perhaps because of all the angst over who would get to go to Denver.

If you wanted to see "fired up," you should have witnessed the supporters of Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate to Gilmore, at the state GOP convention on May 31.

By Tim Craig  |  June 15, 2008; 12:38 AM ET
Categories:  Brian J. Moran , Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/Local , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2008 , Gerald E. Connolly , James Gilmore III , James Webb , Mark Warner , Tim Craig , Timothy M. Kaine , Winners and Losers  
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Next: Dissatisfaction Over Obama Slate Lingers On


I am sure that a lot of business got done, But it always looks like chaos to me

Posted by: pvogel88 | June 15, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Obama-Webb '08,
because integrity,
patriotism, and
honor are needed
now more than ever.

Posted by: martin edwin andersen | June 15, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Larry Byrne apparently kept the sore loser label as there are reports he tried to unseat a prominent Connolly supporter.

More of this convention story needs to come out.

Posted by: Larry Byrne Strikes Back? | June 15, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Haven't the attendees at these conventions take an oath to support the duly nominated candidates of their party?

So, wouldn't that mean that Gloria Guba, the Clinton delegate from Fairfax County, and
Dreama Lampa from Arlington, perjured themselves; or at a minimum broke an oath which they took?

With the same holding true for a Marshall supporter who voted for Warner out of spite.

Posted by: NoVA | June 16, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

What does Jim "Women can't fight" Webb think of the Democrat party quotas?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the majority of what you have written, but would like to throw in some thoughts for consideration.

Yes, the overall management of the convention was lacking. It was indeed a mess as you said. But when was the last time there was so much interest and passion that people were actually working towards being elected to delegate? When in recent memory has the dedication to a presidential candidate been as complete as in this primary? When have activists and loyal party members been so involved, so enmeshed in the process?

Not recently, that is for sure. So if a handful of passionate Clinton supporters are brutally hurt by the results, give them time to mourn. Most are committed Democrats who would no more vote for McCain than Gilmore.

And to the Obama supporters, please do not demean Clinton supporters. This was also in abundance over the weekend. Open your arms to include them and encourage their participation and commitment. Only together will we win in November.

Posted by: Proud VA Dem | June 16, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

"Proud VA Dem" Clinton supporters are SORE LOSERS. They knew they lost it months ago but couldn't face up to a man winning.

Posted by: Ted | June 17, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Ted, that is exactly the kind of attitude that will hurt support for Obama and our other Democratic candidates. Try to contribute something positive.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 17, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Good news about Nye in VA-02, but what part of the Eastern Shore is not in this District?

Posted by: politicalartist | June 19, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I commend these delegates who are sticking to their guns (and clinging to their religion--for that matter, pun intended). This has NOT been a democratic process and anyone who knows antyhing about it knows that IS the case.

Good for Gloria Guba, Dreama Lampa, and others who put COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY! I can assure you that millions of us WILL REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER! And the DNC can get all of the credit for giving us another four years of Republican leadership for NOT going with the stronger, more capable and most formidable candidate. The role of Superdelegates is to nominate the candidate who can win; NOT the one who can bring in the most $$.

Has America woken up yet to ask really, what happened? The Democratic Party has never been more corrupt in its history than now!

Posted by: L.A. Martin, NOVA | June 26, 2008 3:06 AM | Report abuse

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