Changes in blog format, organization or content.

Programming Note

I was unable to participate in today's Massa press conference due an interruption caused by a dirty four-letter word: w-o-r-k.

My MCDC Gripe

Every time I read a story about the dire state of Monroe County, or think about the 2008 election, I get really, really angry at the group that's supposed to be filling the role of the loyal opposition in my home county: the Monroe County Democratic Committee (MCDC). Part of the reason has to do with my experiences working for a Democratic party that worked hard to fulfill their role as the loyal opposition. If you have nothing better to do on Labor Day, you might be interested my political history and how it relates to the current state of the MCDC.

I grew up in the reddest part of a red state: R + ∞ on the Cook scale. When I was growing up, my Dad was occasionally the County Democratic Party Chair. Now this was a tiny county, so his position was anything but an honor, and the work was mundane. In addition to organizing the work of others, Dad did things like helping canvass, distributing yard signs, and -- most importantly -- recruiting candidates.

Now the candidates that Dad recruited almost invariably lost. So he had to work hard to cajole some poor soul into spending his or her time and money to run for whatever piddling little office was up for election. Once in a long while, the Republican running against the Democratic sacrificial lamb would lose, mainly because the GOP candidate was widely recognized as a gross incompetent. Those were days to celebrate.

But victory celebrations were few and far between, so election day wasn't usually a hell of a lot of fun. No matter: in the weeks before the election, Dad would be on the phone coordinating poll workers and telephone callers. The day of the election, Dad and the rest of his motley crew would provide rides to the polls and stay up late waiting for results.

Though he's 76 and retired from work and party leadership, my old man is still volunteering. Recently, he was out canvassing in a bad part of town and some daytime drinkers offered him a party and perhaps a blow job if he played his cards right. Since he's not a Republican US Senator, Dad didn't know what to make of that offer, so he politely turned it down and went to knock on the next door. If you want to find him on election day, look for the guy giving the old ladies a ride to the polls and turning down unsolicited bjs.

A lot of what I know about practical politics was learned from my old man and his Democratic buddies. As I went through High School and came home from College, I'd give Dad a hand in his quixotic tasks. I was even a delegate to the State Democratic Convention one summer when I was 19 years old. (As you might imagine, Dad couldn't get some other poor idiot to do the job.) So I've seen a grassroots, hard-working group of Democrats fighting against bad odds to eke out the occasional victory.

When I moved to New York a few years ago, I figured that my days of watching a pathetic Democratic party struggle in vain were over. Surely a town with a solidly Democratic urban core would be running full slates with lots of winners. Even my poor Dad, who had no money and little time, was usually able to get a full slate of candidates, even though most of them went down in flames.

For the first couple of years, my New York state of mind was blissful ignorance. When I pulled the lever for a Democrat, they usually won. Louise Slaughter, my representative back then, would poll 70/30 without breaking a sweat. I'd never seen that before, and, man, did it feel good.

"These Democrats out here are living the dream," I thought to myself. "They don't need to run the risk of unsolicited bjs from toothless drunks. This is how it's supposed to be."

Though I noticed that Democrats never seemed to run in uptight Republican Pittsford, my first real wake-up call was when I got gerrymandered into the 29th district. After Amo Houghton retired, I figured we'd get a strong Democrat to run for the open seat, and that person would campaign hard and have a good chance to win. Hell, even the shitkickers in my home state could field a good candidate for important offices like United States Representative.

Suffice it to say that Sam Barend, a poor candidate who ran a crummy campaign, shattered some of my illusions about the Democrats out here. The lack of support from the rest of the party was even more surprising to me. Where was Louise? I didn't get a letter or call from my former Congresswoman, telling me how great Sam Barend was and why I should vote for her. Where was the MCDC? I didn't get a single get-out-the-vote call. Nobody checked to see if I was old and needed a ride to the polls.

The Monroe County Democratic Party spends more money on catered lunches than the yearly budget of my hometown Democrats. But, for some reason, the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort of that bunch of rural yahoos trumps Smugtown's best. One example: the first time anyone has ever asked me if I needed an absentee ballot was last election, after Hillary Clinton's campaign paid the MCDC to get off their leaden asses and run a half-hearted GOTV effort.

The last straw was this year's Monroe County Executive race. They couldn't even field a candidate. This makes Baby Jesus cry. The most important office in the county, and no candidate. I don't know Joe Morelle from the man in the moon, but I can assert without fear of contradiction that he's incompetent, lazy or both.

I don't self-identify as a progressive. I don't go to protests, because I don't like the impatience or absolutism I see there. I'm one of those awful centrists, a compromiser or worse. So why is it that I'm the radical on the topic of the MCDC's fuckups? When I say that Morelle ought to be canned, today or sooner, the same group of progressives who think I'm wishy-washy a little too conservative tells me to be more patient, to wait until after the election. Things, they say, will work themselves out.

Bullshit, I say. The MCDC has been doing a crap job for long enough. Their latest fiasco with the County Exec position probably cost every county leg candidate a good percentage of their votes. The only thing left in this election is GOTV, which the MCDC does poorly. If you're taking the 2007 election seriously, you've realized that it was mainly lost the minute that the MCDC failed to fill the top of its slate. The next opportunity is 2008, and it's time to change MCDC leadership now. We need to give a new team time to build a winning organization for one of the most important elections in the last quarter century.

The fear that Democrats will do worse by replacing MCDC leadership is similar to the fear of the abuse victim who stays with an abuser out of an inability to imagine a better future. Progressives are supposed to be able to imagine a brighter future. Put that imagination to work and visualize a MCDC with new leadership.

Blogs in the Messenger-Post

The Messenger-Post has a story about area blogs and the Kuhl "packing" comment. Tom Tucker from Rochesterturning and I are quoted.

My first quote is this:

“It was some off-hand dumb comment ... and he’s not a dumb man and he doesn’t do dumb things ... but giving all this emphasis isn’t very healthy,” Rottenchester said. “It’s like gossip.”

Space limitations made Bryan condense a few thoughts into one quote. My larger point on "gossip" was that people are drawn to these controversies for the same reason we read gossip: we're endlessly fascinated when someone slips up in public. The unhealthy aspect is that concentrating on these controversies occupies the (limited) bandwidth people have for politics.

That's not a criticism of Bryan's reporting, by the way: it's always hard to condense down a long interview into a short news story, especially when dealing with someone as verbose as me. He was faced with the challenge of mining 25 minutes of conversation for a couple of quotes.

Nachbar Link Added

David Nachbar's site now has content, so I've added it to the list of candidate sites on the sidebar.

Technical Difficulties Fixed

Sorry about the downtime yesterday. Everything should be fixed and I'll resume posting soon.

Hibernation is Difficult for Political Junkies

I'm having a hard time keeping my political addiction in check. All the machinery that I've set up to monitor news in the 29th is still humming away, dumping its poison straight into my mailbox.

I'm like an alcoholic sitting in front of a newly made martini. I might be able to keep myself from going on a bender, but I sure don't want to.

So, this weekend I moved the Fighting 29th to a new host, tweaked the layout a little bit, and prepared to get posting. I will probably post one or two entries a week, as circumstances warrant. I'll keep it pretty strictly to the 29th, though I may venture into one other pet topic: voting technology. You've been warned.

Also, if you see anything funky with the layout, your RSS feeds, or comments, please let me know.

Thanks and What's Next

In the next few days, I'll cover the outcome of this race.  I'll also post a few analysis pieces where I discuss the vote tallies and see what they tell us about the future of the 29th district.   After that, this blog will shut down until the next competitive race in the district, which may well be 2008.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone who's taken time to give me a hand.  To those who have posted or e-mailed comments, I greatly appreciate the time and effort.  Rochesterturning and the Rural Patriot have both been very generous by linking and talking up the new kid on the block.  And thanks to everyone who took the time to read a page or two:  it was good to know that someone was paying attention.

I'd also like to thank my wife for cheerfully tolerating my sometimes tedious political obsession.  It's almost over, honey.

Why "Fighting 29th"

It's a Colbert Report reference...perhaps that wasn't obvious.  I'm hoping that Stephen will have a chance to interview Randy before the election.

Why Another Blog?

I've listed a lot of the blogs in the local area that have written about the 29th race recently on the right.  Seeing that list, and adding big national sites like Kos and myDD to it, you've got to wonder if there's anything left that's worth saying about this race.

Obviously, I think there is (either that, or I've just another kook on the Internet.) I've started this blog because I want to contribute a perspective that's missing from the work of area bloggers.

I'm sure I missed a number of blogs making the list.  If I missed you -- right, left or center --  drop me a note.   With the exception of Michael Caputo's column,  all of those blogs are leftist or progressive.  What's missing is a blog that doesn't have a "netroots" bias.   This bias causes those bloggers to overestimate their impact on the race, to fail to critically examine the candidate's positions, and to be in danger of turning into boring echo chambers.

The Kos and myDD folks, and their progressive acolytes, seem to think that they are part of some kind of people-powered revolution that will change politics as we know it. Well, I guess I'm just anblogasmic.  Blogs are a great communication vehicle, but they represent and influence only a small (yet vocal) segment of voters.  The 29th is older than average, and  older voters are less likely to read blogs.  The district is more conservative than average, so a lot of the netroots rhetoric and positions don't resonate with voters.  I plan to post more on how all media will influence this campaign as this blog goes forward.

Eric Massa is a political junkies' wet dream of a candidate, but the netroots blinders don't allow those bloggers to understand or acknowledge some of the reasons why.  Massa's positions on the issues and campaign approach does not fit into the paradigm that Kos and MoveOn believe it does.  I think his campaign strategy is actually more robust (and more centrist) than the netroots crew might want to acknowledge.  I'll have an in-depth post on  how his campaign resembles other past successful minority challenges in the near future.

Similarly, the netroots perspective misses a lot of what's interesting about John R. "Randy" Kuhl.  Randy's clearly a weak candidate and a party hack.  Nevertheless, Randy is fascinating  because he lacks the imagination to do much but run every play in the Republican playbook.   Some of those plays work.  Why they work is important and little-acknowledged by the blogging left.  More on this, too, anon.

As an ardent political spectator rather than inflamed MoveOn partisan, I don't feel the need to constantly whip up my fervor for one of the candidates.  Obviously, I like Massa and dislike Kuhl, but both are politicans and therefore should be subject to intense skepticism.  Both are likely to ignore or dismiss inconvenient facts, to make tactical alliances with disreputable groups, and to stretch the truth under pressure.  And, man, am I looking forward to watching it happen.

Why This Race?

Because it's a bellwether.  It's a "safe" Republican district with a undistinguished freshman incumbent, Randy Kuhl.  If Kuhl loses, a whole lot of other party loyalists are going down the tubes.

By the numbers, Randy should have an easy win.  Though he's a freshman, he represents a district with a large Republican plurality. He beat his Democratic opponent in the last election by a 10 points.

But, this year, Randy has a two major problems.

The first is his voting record.  Since his election in 2004, he's voted with the majority in the House on almost every substantive issue. When he's bucked the majority, he's done it to support Bush.  His vote against stem cell research is a good example.

In other words, Kuhl has never voted against the President on a substantial issue. Unlike his predecessor Amo Houghton, who voted against the war in Iraq, Randy is in the President's pocket.

Randy's second problem is his opponent.  In the last election, Randy went up against young, inexperienced Sam Barend.  Sam made a few mistakes in her campaign, most notably when she tried to make Randy's nasty divorce a campaign issue.  She was also a 26-year-old running her first campaign in a district where the median age increased 4 years (to around 38) in the last census.

This year, Randy's opponent is a 24-year Navy veteran and cancer survivor, Eric Massa. Most of the superficial reasons to vote against Barend won't be around this time, and Massa will be able to make hay with his longstanding opposition to the war in Iraq.

If a political analogue of fantasy football existed for political junkies, it would be hard to draft better players than Kuhl and Massa. Kuhl is perfect because he has few qualities other than loyalty to Bush.  He's like the control in a scientific experiment.  Massa is perfect because he's impervious to the mudslinging on the war that might otherwise cloud the election.  I can't wait to watch Kuhl's attack ads, because they're going to have to go beyond the usual "cut and run". 

We've just passed the 90 day mark in this race.  We have three interesting months ahead.  Hold on, because it's going to be a hell of a ride.

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