At one large-scale political event I attended within the last year, I was booed. At another I was bored. Which one do you think was worse?
The Republican’s Lincoln Day Dinner last April (an odd month to celebrate, considering Lincoln was assassinated in April) attracted police, TV cameras, the FBI and dozens of protestors outside Modesto’s Centre Plaza. That’s because Ann Coulter was inside. The Bee had angered many in the audience of 650 that night by wondering what they found entertaining about an antagonistic, divisive, professional racist. The boos and insults I got were expected.
Last Friday, I went to the third and final debate hosted by the Central Valley Democratic Club. With people filling each of the 444 seats in the Gallo Center’s smaller theater, and 60 more sent down the block to overflow seating, Democrats were delighted with the turnout.
My guess is that Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, if he was paying attention, was delighted, too. Why? Because despite the anti-Denham crowd, lots of booing and a few insults, this event was, well ... boring. Except when it was aggravating.
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When an event is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., it’s boring to wait until 7:30 for someone to take the stage. That’s how long it took for the MC to arrive. She needed another 30 minutes to ask the audience to turn off their phones, not to cheer, not to boo, to get involved in politics, to donate money and then to explain, in detail, how candidates receive party endorsements. When the national anthem singer finally got onto the stage, she had forgotten the words to the song.
A full hour after its scheduled start, the “debate” finally began, with candidates coming up two at a time. Each got 2 minutes to make their points and another minute to rebut the other candidate’s argument. But it’s hardly a debate when the candidates agree on virtually everything.
All in favor of LGBTQ rights? Aye!
More diversity in elections? Yes!
A woman’s right to choose abortion? Hear, hear.
Each of the six candidates were assured of getting to answer six questions, meaning each spoke 18 minutes on the issues plus a 2-minute introduction and 3 minutes for closing remarks – or 23 minutes in total. The MC took longer than that to explain the rules.
There had been two prior debates (in Turlock and Tracy), with each debate having a separate focus. The good stuff – health care, infrastructure, taxes, education, etc. – had already been covered. This debate was about cultural issues. It seemed like a contest to see who could sound the most “politically correct.”
Each candidate took well-placed shots at Denham, but the audience itself was the angriest at the incumbent. Chants of “Dump Denham!” rang out prior to the show.
Considering the verbal beating he got, what possibly could have delighted Denham?
Upon leaving, people were given a chance to mark a slip of paper with their favorite candidate. TJ Cox (like Denham, a transplant to the region) got the most votes with 120. Josh Harder had 62 followed by Virginia Madueño with 51; nurses Sue Zwahlen and Dotty Nygard had 58 between them and Mateo Bedolla got 2. The audience probably got it right, based on the answers we heard and the ability of each candidate to connect.
But what happened to the other 210 voters?
Organizers said 504 people were seated in the two venues; meaning 40 percent of the audience didn’t vote. Couldn’t be bothered? Couldn’t choose? Didn’t like anyone?
This bodes ill for Democrats, even with the head of steam they’ve gathered since Trump won the Electoral College vote, then attacked their health care, sympathized with white supremacists, ignored the deadly Napa wildfire, decided to drill for oil off California’s coast and called a few other countries ... well, you know what he called them.
In 2016, Trump wasn’t popular in District 10. But even with him on the ballot, Denham got 124,671 votes. In Stanislaus County, he outpolled Trump by 14 percent. Thousands who can’t abide Trump still voted for Denham.
Since then, Denham has taken up residence in Trump’s suit pocket (the deep one), voting for Trump’s agenda 98.3 percent of the time.
With Republican Party money cascading into the race, Denham won’t be a pushover. The party is working to raise his stature, putting him in front of MSNBC, NPR and newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle.
Democrats can be a lot of things between now and then, but they can’t remain disorganized, politically polite and certainly not smug. Mostly, they’ve got to be better than boring.