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A Report from the Florida Democratic State Convention

December 8, 2003

by Ron Gunzburger
Publisher, Politics1.com

There were seven Democratic Presidential candidates, three thousand delegates, one thousand additional guests, one thousand Dean supporters bused in to pack the hall, and dozens of journalists at the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) State Democratic Convention. The only problem: there wasn't anything newsworthy going on. That's right. Nada. Nothing. Zippo. Zilch. It looked important, but it was all for show.

When the FDP leaders voted last month -- under heavy pressure from the DNC and some of the national campaigns -- to cancel the Presidential straw ballot, they killed the only thing that would have been real news. Thus, it was appropriate that the Florida Dems officially christened the convention as La Fiesta -- the celebration -- because that was all this weekend was about.

Just because it was a "news-free" event didn't mean we couldn't come up with anything fun to write about. We've got Dean, Gephardt, Lieberman, Clark, Kucinich, Kerry, one of guys from *NSYNC, Ralph Reed (yes, that Ralph Reed), lots of alcohol, lousy food, some aging hippies, joyous liberals, dismayed centrists, a skater named Storm, a bunch of photos, and more.


The setting for La Fiesta was FDP: La FiestaDisney's Coronado Springs Resort, located a short drive from the famous theme parks. The "resort" was actually sprawling cluster of low-rise hotel buildings with Spanish names like "Casitas 4." Casitas, presumably, is the Spanish word meaning a brightly-painted concrete building filled with tiny, drab rooms.


"I'm from NBC News. Do you have our press passes," asked the man.

"Which of your reporters will be covering our convention," replies the friendly woman working at the table.

"No one. We'll just be sending the feed back and they'll decide what to do with it."


That's what happens when you cancel the straw poll.


Delegates wondered up and down the seemingly endless hallways of the huge convention center. The Dean folks had a room inside operating as a temporary office -- generating a large buzz of activity as folks constantly wandered in to collect their t-shirts, posters, and signs. Outside the Dean room, a few Kerry supporters with signs took turns walking sullenly past the Dean room every few minutes.

Broward delegatesAt the opposite end of the building, Kerry had a similar room open. The only difference: there was no visible activity. Nothing except for the few dejected Kerry sign-carriers who came and went from their long walks to the Dean room.

A Florida political gadfly and perennial candidate was continuing his year-long campaign to purportedly draft Hillary Clinton for President -- but it really seemed to be just an effort to sell campaign buttons and stickers. He stood near a heavily trafficked area -- wearing a tie-dyed shirt and a Hillary rubber mask that looked almost nothing like Hillary. The guy held a tattered, scribbled sign touting a fantasy ticket of Hillary and Wesley Clark. Most delegates ignored him.


A young guy in a sports coat walked around holding a Dennis Kucinich sign. His dark hair was streaked with dyed blond highlights and he sported a small "soul patch" beard under his lip. He was the first Kucinich volunteer I'd seen who appeared to be (a) fairly normal, and (b) professionally dressed. The others seemed to be leftovers from the recent anti-FTAA protests in Miami and/or all of the other anti-whatever protests that became the perpetual aging hippie road show -- in the place of the old Grateful Dead tours -- ever since Jerry Garcia died.

His convention delegate badge identified him as "Storm" -- which was exactly the kind of name you'd expect from a supporter of Kucinich's combo message of 1960s liberalism and mystical New Age themes. Then again, I also expected to run into other Kucinich backers with names like Windspirit, Skyye, etc.

Does the Kucinich campaign have a press schedule of events, like the others had distributed earlier?

"A press schedule? Well, we don't usually plan things," said Storm.

What do you mean?

"I like Kucinich a lot, but the whole campaign operation is pretty amateur. It's embarrassing. They're kind of making it up as they go along. I'll mention it later when we get together to discuss what we want to do tomorrow." As he speaks, an attractive young woman walks by and Storm's eyes briefly follow.

How did you get involved with Kucinich?

"I looked up all the candidates online and really liked what he had to say. You know, people keep coming up to me all day telling me they really like Kucinich's message, but that they aren't supporting him because they think he can't win the nomination."

Have you ever been involved in politics before?

"Before Kucinich, the only thing I ever did in politics was my own campaign for Student Trustee when I was at the University of Connecticut. This is the first time I'm involved with anyone else's campaign for anything -- but politics is really what floats my boat."


Several hundred Dems wandered around at the outdoor reception. Cash bar. Very little food. Some delegates -- mainly senior citizens -- quickly grabbed what little food there was.

State Party Chairman Scott Maddox circulated through the crowd. He'd give two fiery speeches -- his favorite style -- before the convention was over. But, for tonight, this was just a cocktail party. At one point, the Wesley Clark folks quickly marched through the crowd carrying signs. Sixty seconds later, they're done with their little show. The Kucinich folks came through next with a loud, spirited group of sign-carriers -- an event that also ended in less than a minute. It really wasn't a big patio area, so it didn't take long for the clusters of ten or twenty folks to do their quick, circular parades.Clark parade

All in all, a rather dull event -- and I was getting hungry.


The reception ended and -- as I had nothing to eat so far -- I headed over to the nearby hospitality suites scheduled to open in a few minutes at 8 pm. I quickly see that the first one (sponsored by Congressman Jim Davis) was already filled with seniors who apparently arrived thirty minutes early and ate everything. The one next door -- sponsored by past and future Gov hopeful Daryl Jones -- repeated an identical scene. "They got here half an hour ago and ate everything," said an apologetic Jones aide.

Okay, the Alex Penelas for US Senate hospitality suite seemed more promising. Again, no remaining food -- but an uncrowded open bar. I found Storm at the Penelas party -- and he was wearing a Penelas sticker. Storm explained he wasn't supporting Penelas -- and didn't like how Penelas and the police in Miami handled the FTAA protesters a week ago -- but he's here for the free alcohol. Mike -- one of my fellow Vermont Law grads who works near my office -- joined us, and the three of us finished our drinks.

We decided to go and -- gasp! -- purchase dinner at the cavernous Disney restaurant down the hall. As we walked there, I saw a cart of deserts being wheeled down the hall to one of the parties. A small group of seniors -- having innately sensed the siren call of free food -- quickly closed in on it even as the cart continued to move. Some, like sharks in a hungry pack, darted out and grabbed at the small treats as they rolled by.

The food in the Disney restaurant was over-priced and kinda sucked. But at least we had something to eat before a night of drinking.

Mike wore a Dean button. He told Storm that he liked a lot of what Kucinich says. "See," said Storm, his eyes rolling up in disgust. "That's what everyone says to me."

On the way out, as we paid for our meals, Storm produced a Disney employee -- "cast member" in Disney-speak -- ID card to get his discounted price. It turns out Storm works as an extreme skater, performing halfpipe shows at one of the Disney parks. He added, though, that he wants to go to law school in the future. He also has a girlfriend -- a grad student -- but she isn't at the convention.

I asked if the name Storm was real or a nickname. He pulled out his drivers license. Yup, it actually was his legal first name.


Since we were still in the convention center building, we strolled back to the Penelas party. The bar was still going so the three of us were happy. That's when we met Lisa (not her real name, as you'll quickly see why) and her Mom. Lisa had clearly been drinking for a while. Attractive and in her early twenties, Lisa was holding a drink in her hand as she talked to us.

Doesn't she find it a bit awkward to be here in the Penelas suite while wearing a button for one of his rivals? Lisa responded by staring blankly back at us. "What do you mean," she asks. Her eyes were glassy and her speech a bit slurred. "I don't even like Alex Penelas," she added -- not aware that the candidate she was bad-mouthing now stood just five feet away.

Her Mom -- who wasn't drunk -- was at her side and laughed along with Lisa's drunken observations. Within the first five minutes, we learned from the chatty Lisa that she "was born Jewish, but then I became kinda an atheist, but I'm not really into all that religious stuff." Storm added that he's a Buddhist. "I really want to be a Buddhist sometimes, but I also think studying Kaballah would be cool," said Lisa.

The Penelas bar closed at 10 pm. Lisa and her Mom wandered off. So did the three of us. Time to hit the Building Trades hospitality suite in the next building. Big crowd there. We helped ourselves to another round of drinks (or two). When Mayor Penelas showed up, Storm tried to persuade him to do a shot. "I think he's gonna do a shot a Jager with me," he says with a grin. Nope. Penelas glided through the room, shook some hands, then was off to his next stop. Labor folks came up to Storm -- seeing his Kucinich button -- and told him how much they liked what Kucinich stands for, but say that they are supporting Gephardt (or Dean, or whomever).

When the labor party started to die out an hour later, off went our now expanded entourage in search of the next party. We heard there was a Caribbean Caucus party -- we wandered around looking for it -- but it appeared to have already ended. Storm saw a leaflet for a party on the next floor up.

We found the party. It was hosted by Equality Florida, the leading gay rights advocacy group in the state. It was only when Storm saw the brochures on the bar that he realized the nature of the group. He was fine with that. Besides, this was by far the best open bar we found all evening: premium labels, lots of choices.

After a while there, a gray-haired gentleman and his thirty-something boyfriend came over to chat up Storm. He disappeared with them for two minutes as they gave him a tour of the suite. "They've got a nice hot tub back there that they just showed me," he said on his return. "You know, I'm committed to Kucinich -- but I'm just not that committed to helping Kucinich."

We split up for the night. But, shortly before, Storm explained his frustration with the Kucinich campaign: "We'll meet to talk. People will sit around saying 'We should have done this' or 'We should have done that' but no one is really organizing anything. I just got to make it through the rest of the evening without them finding me so I won't have to sit through another one of those meetings."


The FDP's convention press spokesman gave us our schedules at the Saturday morning press briefing. We're told that the ongoing blizzard in the Northeast could delay arrival of some of the candidates, so that schedules may be slightly adjusted throughout the day. He also described the "exciting" candidate Q&A sessions scheduled for the various meal events. "It will be a fun, roll-up-your-sleeves format -- people will be eating." Battle of the InchesSounds like the candidates had been demoted to the dinner theater circuit.


The campaigns were all setting up their tables in their respective assigned areas in the hallway immediately outside the convention floor Saturday morning. There was trouble brewing between the Kerry and Kucinich camps. While each campaign set up, some Kerry people complained that Kucinich posters were on the Kerry part of the wall. The Kucinich people responded that some Kerry boxes had encroached on their side of the floor. A Kerry volunteer loudly paced off exaggerated steps and announced that his campaign was correct. A Kucinich person (right) produced a tape and the two sides measured. Kucinich won. The Kerry boxes moved.

John Kerry's campaign must Pin the tail on Dennisreally have reached a new low when they started fighting with the Kucinich folks over four extra inches of floor space.


The Kucinich campaign set up a large map and invited people to place pins in the map to show where each one lived. Definitely an idea that sounded better in concept than execution. By mid-morning (left), there were thirteen pins on the map. By late in the day, the total peaked at eighteen. Probably not the message they intended to convey.

Storm was at the Kucinich table and handed me a printed schedule of eight events over the two days of the convention. Apparently he attended the late night meeting, letting me know he got only ninety minutes of sleep because of the meeting and the early morning prep work for today's busy day. The concept of organization has seemingly come to the Kucinich campaign.


A top national official with a rival campaign started griping to me about Howard Dean. He told me it was "offensive" that the Dean campaign paid $50,000 for the right to bring a thousand extra guests onto the convention floor later during Dean's speech.

An FDP spokesman responded: "That's ridiculous. All campaigns had the same opportunities. They're just spinning."

Back to the rival campaign guy: "The Dean campaign is not grassroots -- it's astroturf. It's not real. His support was bought today with a $50,000 payment to the party." You know, he added, the Dean campaign got a copy of the delegate list one month before the FDP made copies available to everyone -- and they were the only ones able to contact everyone. "That's how the party decided to play it here," he grumbled.

The FDP spokesman gave a complicated explanation as to how this happened -- but this complaint appeared to be essentially accurate.


At the opening session of the convention, the delegates were shown a video tribute to a young College Democrat activist and military reservist who died fighting in Iraq a few months ago. Three minutes into the video, I spotted Storm leaving in disgust. "I had to walk out of there. That was disgusting -- it was like a tribute to imperialism. They said he died fighting for freedom. What freedom was he fighting for? He died fighting for imperialism. Is this a Republican Convention? It was sickening me," he fumed.

Didn't you think the point was to show that Democrats -- like Republicans -- are also loyal Americans who are willing to fight for this country?

"He wasn't fighting for this country. He was fighting for oil."

So, have you Gephardtwon anyone over to Kucinich yet?

"No -- but ask me again around 3:30 this afternoon."


Dick Gephardt was the first candidate to speak to the convention. He gave a good speech, filled with lots of his stock lines, and drew lots of applause. Many elected officials and union leaders are backing Gephardt -- giving him the appearance of being the main establishment opponent to Dean. Still, the Gephardt campaign projected the moribund feel of a "last hurrah."

At his post-speech Q&A session, a robotic Gephardt manages to go on for minutes with endless answers to everything. He -- like all the candidates -- talks on and on about how "important" Florida is, even though Florida's primary seemingly comes a week too late in the primary season to matter. I grabbed Gephardt on the way out for a quick question about whether he would support a change in the DNC rule that guarantees Iowa and New Hampshire their "first-in-the-nation" status so that other "important" states -- like Florida -- could have a turn at going first. Hmm ... that gave him a choice of annoying voters there or annoying voters here. Gephardt glared at me, pursed his lips, then tersely replies: "That's a position that the party has to determine." I tried to follow-up with another question, but he turned his back and started moving away.

Kucinich volunteer Storm In the back of the press room, I noticed Storm was there -- only now he wore a red press badge (left). When I found him after the press conference, I saw it was a Student Press badge. Then I noticed he also sported a yellow Convention Staff Volunteer badge. "I have my sources," he mischievously explained.


A voting machine manufacturing company from Missouri -- Populex -- had one of their machines set up in the front corner of the room reserved for the post-speech candidate press availabilities. The company was here because they were originally going to be the folks who ran the now-cancelled straw poll for the FDP. Still, they were here touting their combo touch-screen/optical scan ballot devices. They carefully positioned their corporate signs on the side wall and lined up brochures so they would be in the camera shots when Gephardt used the machine. They were very hopeful -- because the wife of one of the Populex guys had once worked for Gephardt -- that he'd take the three steps from the podium and pretend to vote for himself in a non-existent straw ballot.

It didn't happen. Gephardt never went near the machine.

In fact -- by the time Joe Lieberman became the final candidate to use the room the next morning -- every candidate managed to come and go without getting near the thing.


While another speech went on in the convention hall, the real excitement took place off the floor. Loud chants of "No G-O- P! No G-O-P!" drew attention. Hey, whatever was causing the commotion would likely be more interesting than a canned speech. At the center of the shouting was former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed (right), surrounded by a phalanx of angry Democrats. They quickly pressured Reed into leaving the building and answer media questions outside.

Ralph ReedReed -- now the Southeastern States Regional Chair of the Bush campaign -- said he had crashed the convention "to provide equal time for our message."

Aren't Republican events the place where you get equal time for the Bush message?

"Yes, of course, but we wanted equal time here to this message of anger, pessimism, protest, and personal attacks on the President. I'd invite any Democrat to do same at a Republican event if they have similar concerns -- not that they'd be any more warmly welcomed there, but they're welcome to try."

For equal time, here was Reed's soundbite: "It's a McGovern-Mondale message in there: I'll raise your taxes and peace at any price in the war on terrorism."

Do you think Dean was talking about you last week -- and the themes you helped pioneer in past races -- when he said that Dems can win Southern states if they could get the debate moved away from the "God, gays and guns" topics and instead talked about the economic, health care and education issues "that really matter"?

Reed answered in a way that would have done Claude Raines proud in Casablanca ("I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in this establishment."). Reed said he was "profoundly disappointed" and "offended" both personally "and as a Southerner" by Dean's comments. He also added that Dean "doesn't understand or isn't listening" to recent Republican campaign messages because the GOP doesn't campaign on any of those issues anyways.

But wasn't it true that US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) -- not Dean -- was the first to use that same phrase? Didn't Inhofe repeatedly say in 1994 that he'd keep winning elections so long as campaigns were about "God, gays and guns"? And -- before you think this Inhofe quote came from some liberal source -- the quote came from the conservative Washington Times newspaper (11/4/94).

"Jim Inhofe is a friend of mine. I don't that know that he ever said that but -- if he did -- I don't agree with him."

Responded Dean aide Zephyr Teachout: "Howard Dean is very pleased that Ralph Reed is offended by our message."


For those who know about the basic history of the various pop "boy bands" in recent years -- New Kids, *NSYNC, O-Town, etc. -- you know that there seems to be a certain formula to them. There are usually four or five young guys: the cute one, the rebellious one, the gay ... umm ... make that the sensitive one, the fat one, and the talented one.

Perhaps John Kerry wanted to add "the really old one" to the mix. The most amusing leaflet of the convention was the one from the Kerry campaign that read: "Sen. John Kerry invites you to a meet-n-greet with special guest Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSYNC." Because, of course, when you think of boy bands, John Kerry immediately comes to mind. Also notice the hip new spelling of "meet-n-greet" too!

John Kerry and NSYNCChris -- the Kerry folks all referred to Kirkpatrick as as "Chris" -- was dressed in a full-length black leather jacket and dark shades. It was an outfit Chris kept wearing inside, even during the luncheon forum with Kerry.

Not reported: Today was apparently the first time Kerry and Chris (left) ever met. As Kerry headed into the luncheon, staffers pulled Chris over to Kerry's side. "C'mon pal, let's do this," says Kerry to his new sidekick as he grabbed Chris' sleeve and they headed into the ballroom.

Also not previously reported: It turned out that a Kerry staffer used to be a Mousketeer several years ago with some of Chris' friends and got him to do the favor for Kerry. It helped that Chris lived nearby in Orlando. Kerry -- in turn -- returned the favor by making a plug during the luncheon about "protecting intellectual property" (translation: I'll go after you folks who trade music files online).

I managed to slip through the crowd to Chris to ask him a question as the luncheon breaks up. Have you ever endorsed any candidate before?

"Never endorsed anyone before. This is my first time."

What is it that you like about Senator Kerry?

At that moment, protective Kerry staffers stepped between Chris and me and abruptly ended the interview. "Chris isn't here to answer any media questions today," said the aide. "Just pictures today."

I noticed Storm also was blocked by the same folks a few moments later when -- pretending to be a reporter from Teen People -- he tried to ask Chris if the boys had Kerry in mind while they were performing any of their songs.

Outside during the five-minute "meet-n-greet", Chris explained he must leave for "another meeting." Kerry leaned toward Chris, placed his hand on Chris' shoulder, and said: "Great to have you here, pal ... let's get together again soon." They're going to be hanging together? Yeah, right!

I asked Kerry Deputy Campaign Manager Marcus Jadotte to name Kerry's favorite NSYNC song. Answer: "Bye, Bye, Bye -- the one he's going to play for George W. Bush on election night."

Well, if Kerry is elected, will he ensure that *NYSNC bandmate Lance Bass will finally get to go into space?

"Yes, Senator Kerry certainly plans to work on making that happen," said Jadotte.


Until General Clark arrived at the convention Saturday afternoon, the most exciting thing his campaign offered to delegates was the opportunity to have a photo taken with a life-sized cardboard version of Clark. Well, to say "life-sized" was a stretch. The cardboard Clark was actually taller by a few inches than the more diminutive real-life version.


Lisa -- the drunken girl from the night before -- was back. I found her in the hallway chatting with Storm and Mike. She was busy telling them that she "wasn't drunk at all last night." Then she announced that -- if we were wondering -- she wasn't a real blond. She asked Storm about his new press badge and he joked that he was covering the convo for Teen People. Suddenly, she bursts to life again. "People magazine? I've got a Ben and JLo story for you. Ben like, almost one time, like, hit me with his car once. They have a place near me in Miami Beach, and I was walking and he, like, almost hit me, and he, like, hit the brakes and I looked up and it was Ben, and I was like, 'No you don't.' Oh, oh, and then this one time, like, with JLo, they closed the Lucky shop on Lincoln Road just so JLo could shop there alone and that was, like, so wrong 'cuz she's not better than anyone else ..." It just kinda continued on like that. We tried to ignore her a bit by shifting back to political stuff. When I made a joke to Storm that his candidate has a section of his official Congressional website devoted to his favorite polka music -- I'm not making this up (click here and see for yourself) -- Lisa perked back up. "The Hokey Pokey? I love the Hokey Pokey," she squealed. Then she starts performing "You put your butt in, you put your butt out, you put your butt in and you shake it all about" while she shook her butt inches from our crotches. Another young female delegate -- this one with a very low cut top -- stopped by and chats with Storm. When the two girls leave, he says of the low-cut girl: "Now that is my type -- I've got to try to find her later tonight."


The Kerry campaign distributed orange foam Nerf balls and plastic whistles with his name emblazoned across them. I asked the guy handing them out what the balls were supposed to symbolize. "Maybe it means that Kerry has the balls to be President -- but I'm not sure that's the official line," he says. Kerry, for his part, gave his speech with a better delivery than I ever remembered from the past.


Kucinich zombiesGeneral Clark arrived at the convention and got a nice welcome outside.

On the way back in, I saw Storm at the Kucinich table. With the exception of Storm, all the Kucinich people were holding cardboard Kucinich facemasks. The masks all had the eyes cut out, which made the cutout eye areas look blackened -- resembling the zombies in the 28 Days Later horror flick. Some wore eyeglasses over the masks. A woman in a dress wore one, too, giving her the look of a Kucinich zombie in drag.

"These people are freaks. I am so embarrassed by them sometimes," said Storm.

As he said this, two of the supporters added red feathered boas to their outfits. A minute later, one supporter started up playing the guitar and another pulled out a tambourine. They're joined by a person playing a washboard, another on a drum, someone with percussion sticks, and soon whistles and other instruments. Kucinich zombies

Storm reached into his pocket and pulled out a pink plastic kazoo. "This is about to get really f***ing embarrassing. They gave all of us these kazoos so we could give Dennis a kazoo welcome when he arrives from the airport. We're all supposed to play When the Saints Go Marching In on the kazoo," he said with exasperation, above the growing cacophanous sound. "And they wonder why people don't take us seriously."

He's right. Soon supporters pulled out their kazoos and joined the other instruments. Some of the people even seemed to know the songs they tried to play. For others -- possibly tone deaf -- it didn't seem to matter. But they all apparently had a good time.

"Hey, I just found out that Dennis is vegan," Storm told me. "That is so cool. I'd really like to sit down and talk with him about it sometime. I used to be vegan for about five years -- but then I got really sick and gave it up."

He may clean up nicely, but Storm definitely fit in well with the Kucinich camp.

Later, while Clark was delivering his speech to the convention, the Kucinich folks mistakenly thought it was time for Kucnich's entrance. Never mind that Kucinich wasn't anywhere to be seen ... or that Howard Dean had just walked by them to the holding room because he was next to speak. They believed it was suddenly time to start their demonstration for their candidate's grand entrance. They started playing again -- drums, whistles, kazoos, etc. -- and formed a ragtag cluster of about fifty folks that began marching forward. They flung open a side door and started onto the convention floor ... only to see that Clark was still speaking. Their music abruptly stopped and they awkwardly withdrew from the floor. One of the "DJK" folks -- as some of them like to refer to their candidate -- walked up to an FDP staffer and asked when were they supposed to start their Kucinich entrance. They were told he goes on after Dean.

Ten minutes later, some of them waiting in the hallway are ready to start up again -- the noise from them starts to rise again -- until one of them walks up to me and asked if Dean was finished yet. No, I explained, he hadn't even started yet. "That's still Clark speaking on stage."

Back out into the hallway again for the DJK'ers. About 45 minutes later they got it right on the third try and correctly entered with their candidate. In fact, their ranks swelled to about a hundred by the time they marched in to the strains of John Lennon's Imagine.

Dean demonstrationTHE MAIN ATTRACTION

Outside all of the different entrances around the convention floor, the bused-in Dean supporters lined up with their signs. Most of them were from pro-Dean labor unions. The music rose on the loudspeakers and the Dean entrance started. They really flooded the hall with thousands of supporters -- filling all the seats and aisles -- and clearly dwarfed the demonstrations put on in support of any of the other candidates.

Dean did his now well-rehearsed act. DeanUnlike the others, he came out without a coat. At the podium, before starting his speech, he rolled up his sleeves. Then he lets loose with all the lines his supporters wanted to hear. He slammed Bush for "race baiting" with quotas, and for the Iraq War. He went on to hit all the hot buttons: labor unions, health care, education, gay rights, abortion, etc.

Most of the crowd were on their feet screaming in support of Dean long before he and his supporters exited as the upbeat Walking on Sunshine tune blared from the sound system.

Of course, individual reactions depended upon whom you asked.

"Obscene. This was a bought room. It was disgusting. For as little as we spent on this, I'm perfectly happy with how we did here today compared with Dean," fumed one rival campaign operative, who didn't want to be named.

"This was pretty cool. It's not like I'm supporting Dean -- but his whole thing was really cool," said Storm.

Lots of delegates left after Dean departed -- which left Kucinich with a half-empty hall for his speech.


So, any converts to Kucinich yet?

"Yes, finally. Dennis's speech was great. I was absolutely enthralled by it. And, yes, there were converts. I was finally able to win over a few people to Kucinich."


In Annie Hall, Woody Allen told the joke about two old ladies at a Catskills resort who kvetched about the meals. One complained: "What bad food!" "Yes," her friend agreed, "and such small portions, too." Fittingly, that joke pretty accurately described all the meals served at the convention.

After a nap, I made it back just in time for the dinner Q&A session featuring Dean and Kucinich. Clark had also agreed to be there, but he ducked out to catch an early flight to Virginia.

KucinichWhen I asked Kucinich if he would run as the Natural Law Party nominee if he failed to win the Democratic nomination, he gave an evasive response. "I want to make the Democratic Party a viable second party. I believe the convention will be an open convention. I think that we'll all have some delegates and the party should nominate me if they want to win in November. I can win this election by appealing to people in the Natural Law Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Independents. That will give me the extra votes to give us a victory. Any Democrat can get 48%, 49% of the national vote, but only a Democrat like me who appeals to third parties can make up the difference needed to win. I'm running as a Democrat, I'm running to make the party relevant, and I'm running to win."

But, if you somehow don't win the Democratic nomination, would you consider running as a third party candidate in November against the Democratic nominee?

"If the Democratic Party wants to win, they're going to nominate me," Kucinich replied.

When I talked to Dean, he said he supported maintaining the protected "first" status for Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprising coming from a guy leading in both those states.


Storm -- who had crashed the Dean-Kucinich dinner with his press badge -- came over to me. He told me that Lisa found him during the pre-dinner caucuses and broke into tears. Seems that the boy she really liked dumped her because she got very drunk at an event and really embarrassed him -- but she still had a big crush on that boy, who now won't speak to her. She also told Storm that he wasn't at all her type.

Storm also mentioned that he had never met Kucinich. Since he'd become a central figure in this article, I arranged with a Kucinich staffer to have Storm meet Kucinich at their post-dinner rally.

After the dinner, I tried to find the courtyard with the Kucinich rally among the maze of walkways running between various buildings. It felt like I was in some odd maze. I ran into other reporters -- and some Kucinich volunteers -- who were also unable to find the rally. Was it held in the well lit courtyard? No. It was back behind the building, in a darkened patch. Kucinich was apparently standing in the middle of the crowd of thirty of so volunteers. He's a short guy, so we couldn't see him at all. There was no sound system, so we couldn't hear him well, either.

The event ran on and on. I asked Kucinich's aide if she's going to be ending the event soon. "Oh no," she answered. "To Dennis, going to bed is surrendering."

We waited some more. Storm had already achieved his main goal of the day of recruiting a few more DJK supporters. Now he turned his thoughts to his secondary goal. Storm said that -- after the picture is taken -- he wanted to go off in search of "the booby girl." She was supposed to be at the Hispanic Caucus hospitality suite.

Aren't you interested in any of the Kucinich campaign girls?

"No, they're too ... umm ... I don't get that not-shaving-the-legs thing," he explained.

We heard applause and -- thinking the event was breaking up -- we moved back towards the center of the group. Kucinich was just getting his second wind. He loudly announced triumphantly that he just finished a cell phone call from a supporter in Los Angeles and that -- at whatever obscure event he was Kucinich and Stormtalking about -- "We just placed second in their voting this evening!" Someone in the crowd loudly shouts out "Viva Hector Elizondo!" and a cheer goes up. Don't ask -- I have no idea who Hector Elizondo is.

As we waited, Storm asked his vegan question to Kucinich's aide. "Well, it had to do with an important personal relationship in his life that convinced him to make that change," she cryptically explained. Storm later told me he also wanted to ask about Kucinich's involvement in the Transcendental Meditation movement -- but it was suddenly time for him to meet Kucinich.

Storm stepped forward and he and Kucinich exchanged brief greetings. I snapped a quick photo. A moment later, it was all over. Kucinich was talking to the next person and Storm was on the outside edge of the small crowd. He didn't even get around to asking his candidate any of his questions -- but Storm was still happy he finally met him. (Note: Storm wanted me to explain here that he was operating on just ninety minutes of sleep over a two-day period when this photo was taken.)

As we walk off, Pete Seeger folk music started to play from an open hotel room doorway at the edge of the courtyard.

I wandered off to the open bars of the hospitality suites again. Storm left in search of "the booby girl."


Sunday Liebermanmorning was Joe Lieberman's time on the convention floor. He spent much of it talking about the 2000 recount and Florida. He didn't have a lot of support at the convention, but he is a likable guy. He mugged, he told jokes, and he seemed to like his time around people.

He started the press event with a joke that he'd "either answer questions or redeliver my speech, which ever you prefer." In response to a question about new polls that showed Dean moving up, he joked that "I have a basic rule that I only cite polls that I'm doing well in and discount those I'm not doing well in."

When asked about any current significance of the 2000 recount -- a topic he endlessly mentions in speeches -- he earnestly insisted: "I don't dwell on it." That -- from the man whose campaign distributed "Re-Elect Joe 2004" signs to the delegates this weekend -- elicited smirks from the reporters.

In response to a diversity question, he told a story about an elderly Hispanic female supporter in Arizona who welcomed him to an event with a hand-lettered sign that read "Viva Chutzpah!" When everyone laughed, he pointed to a Washington Post reporter and added "Be sure to credit me with that joke -- not Howard Dean. That was my joke."

Lieberman might not be going anywhere in this race, but seemed to be enjoying the trip all the same.

On the way out of the press conference, a senior citizen with a delegate badge and a press badge stopped Lieberman with this question: "I'm glad you're here today, but what I really want to know is why isn't Al Gore -- the person who really should be here today -- here?"

Hmm ... maybe because he isn't running in 2004!!


I never saw Storm during any of the Sunday events before the convention ended. The people who worked at the Kucinich table hadn't seen him, either. Perhaps, I thought, he achieved his second goal, too.

But, when I got home Sunday evening, I found a short email from Storm. "Mission failed," it read.

Hey, one out of two ain't bad.

Like I wrote at the start of this article: No real news from this weekend, but it was a lot of fun.

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