On Monday Georg, S and I went to a Senate candidate forum sponsored by DFO (Durham for Obama). They invited all the Democratic candidates to attend and four showed up: Elaine Marshall, Ken Lewis, Cal Cunningham and Marcus Williams. Each candidate got to make a short speech, then they answered questions (all submitted in advance) and then closing speeches.
It was fun to go to a DFO event again. I saw lots of people I knew, though most of them were volunteering so I only greeted a few. I felt kinda guilty that I hadn't volunteered! To be perfectly honest, I've been avoiding politics. I didn't know they needed volunteers because I haven't looked in my "politics" email box for weeks. I didn't even know about the event until S. asked us if we were going.
I wasn't expecting substance from the candidates at this event, and I didn't get any. It's not a forum where they're going to talk about hard truths or specific plans. Their campaign statements were all very similar, and mostly boiled down to "babies should eat!"* What I wanted to find out was which candidate felt credible, gave a good speech, seemed like they'd be able to handle Burr in a debate. My thumbnail impressions, for what it's worth:
Elaine Marshall: better than I expected. I went into it thinking she was a boring candidate, pragmatic and uninspiring. But she was lively and enthusiastic. Not perfect -- she had a good story about her youth which she told twice -- though I'll be comfortable with her if she wins the primary.
Ken Lewis: was a somewhat flat speaker, didn't seem to wake up until the very end. He told a great story in the closing statement though, about his grandmother who had lived to be a hundred, and the changes that had occurred in America in her lifetime. It was the only genuinely moving moment of the entire evening, and if he had been like that all night I'd be firmly in his camp. On the other hand, he has no legislative experience. And he was the only candidate to slam the others (in his closing speech) which seemed like a sour note to me. Still, I'll be comfortable with him if he wins the primary.
Cal Cunningham: I went there wanting to support Cunningham, wanting him to give me a reason. Unfortunately, he was a terrible speaker. He might be the most sincere, most earnest guy in the world in real life, but on the stage there was something completely phony, Mitt Romney-ish about him. When he told his big story in the closing statement -- it was about seeing his family for the first time after returning from duty in Iraq -- it sounded so contrived that all three of us rolled our eyes. Maybe it was just us, and the general public wouldn't be so put off by him. However, based on my impression I think he would be a disaster as a candidate.
Marcus Williams: By far the best speaker, and clearly the least qualified. He connected with the audience every time he spoke. If only we could have a candidate with Marshall's experience and Williams' demeanor!
At the end of the night we all voted for our preferred candidate. The idea was that DFO would endorse the winner, but as it turned out they set the bar too high -- 70% needed for an endorsement -- so they didn't endorse. Ken Lewis won the vote with a simple majority.
*The first political comedy I ever saw was when Al Franken hosted nightly coverage of the 1992 conventions on Comedy Central. I think it must have been 1992 because I remember he did a hilarious parody of the video introducing Al Gore and his family. Anyway Franken had a panel there to talk about the speeches, and one of the panelists was Chris Rock. Every time someone said an empty platitude (which was constantly) Rock would shout "Babies should eat!" Ever since, when I watch a content-free political speech that's what I hear in my head. Chris Rock saying "Babies should eat!" over and over.