Democrat delegate race pits insiders against activists
Sen. Barack Obama has famously attracted legions of young voters to his campaign, and Kimberly Durso is one of them. Listening to him speak, she was inspired to start the Chico for Obama group and, later, become the 2nd Congressional District team coordinator for the Obama campaign. Last Saturday (April 5) she once again was out campaigning, this time at the Farmers Market, where she busily touted her candidate, sold Obama gear and, incidentally, lined up votes for herself.
Durso now has a dual campaign: to make Obama president and herself a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. To accomplish the latter, she has to prevail in the Obama caucus vote scheduled for Sunday (April 13). She’s paid her dues and deserves to go, she believes, but she’s up against stiff competition from two dozen other Democrats, including party insiders Chico Councilwoman Mary Flynn and former Councilman Dan Nguyen-Tan, who haven’t campaigned for Obama but want to get in on the action.
With a woman competing against an African-American man, the Democratic presidential primary already has made history, and the opportunity to be a part of that has inspired a record 2,500 Democrats to file for California’s 241 district-delegate spots, said Bob Mulholland of Chico, a California Democratic Party spokesman. Any registered Democrats can vote to fill the four delegate seats open in the 2nd Congressional District, two pledged to Sen. Hillary Clinton and two to Obama.
Separate delegate caucuses will be held starting at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 13). The Clinton caucus will be in the Chico City Council chambers, and the Obama caucus at the Park Tower Pavilion on South Park Avenue. Those who want to vote need to do so or be in line before 3 p.m.
The Republican delegate-selection process, which allows the presidential candidates to select their own delegates, lacks the fun and civic involvement of the Democratic process. Presumed nominee Sen. John McCain will select 155 California officials, donors and campaign supporters to send to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“Any Democrat with 50 to 100 friends can become a delegate, so it’s quite exciting,” said Mulholland, who as a member of the Democratic National Committee is one of those 800 superdelegates you’ve been hearing so much about lately and will be attending his eighth convention this year. “There will be no 18-year-old Republican delegates unless they’re the son of a millionaire.”
Nine 17-year-olds, who will turn 18 by Nov. 4, have filed to join the California Democratic delegation, Mulholland said.
The record interest is changing the face of the archaic yet fascinating process dominated in the past by the politically established. Youths and novice politicos are challenging party insiders for the no-expense-paid trip to Denver in August.
Several Chico insiders are vying against campaign volunteers and activists for the delegate spots. Mulholland’s wife, long-time Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, hopes to be a Clinton delegate, as does former Chico Mayor Michael McGinnis. On the Obama side, Flynn and Nguyen-Tan are running as a slate.
Randall Stone, vice-chairman of the Democratic Action Club, and his partner Krista Gallwitz, who is the group’s secretary and a member of the Butte County Democratic Central Committee, are both competing for the open Clinton spots, though not as a slate.
“Even though there are spots for one man and one woman, I don’t think slates are very popular,” said Stone, who hopes to join his parents in Denver if they win the delegate spots in the 14th Congressional District, which includes their town, Sunnyvale.
Kimberly Durso is running with Ryan McElhinney as a slate. McElhinney, a 21-year-old Chico State student, is the field director for Students for Obama in California. The two explain that they have formed a slate in order to suit the national Democratic rule requiring pledged delegates to be split evenly along gender lines.
For people like Durso and McElhinney, the name recognition Flynn and Nguyen-Tan enjoy poses a challenge, as do the other 24 people vying for the two Obama positions. Fifteen people filed for the two Clinton spots. The full list of delegate nominees is online at the California Democratic Party Web site: www.cadem.org.
Durso, like many Americans, had become disillusioned by politics over the last seven years of the Bush administration, and other than voting she had no involvement. That changed last year when she heard Obama speak.
“I want better health care and the war to end,” Durso said. “I’m a single mom, and I want a better world for my son to grow up in.”
Durso thinks Obama can deliver, so she acted and now hopes to help nominate him in Denver. On Monday (April 7), she and McElhinney were manning a table at Chico State University’s Free Speech Area, where they informed voters of the caucus, sold more Obama campaign supplies and solicited votes.
One woman epitomized the character of this election season and delegate process, when she told Durso and McElhinney they could count on her vote.
“I think the delegates should be the people who were involved in the grassroots effort from the beginning,” said Nancy Park, an administrative assistant at Chico State. “I went to the Obama march that Kim organized before the [California] primary [on Feb. 5], and I didn’t see Mary Flynn or Dan Nguyen-Tan there.”
Park, who said she voted for Flynn and Nguyen-Tan when they ran for City Council and would do so again, thinks the delegate spots should go to those most involved in the campaign.
In the end, the battle between the politically connected and the recently inspired will boil down to who organizes the best.
“You can’t become a delegate without building a coalition of support,” Mulholland said at Durso’s table at the Farmers Market. “It’s a lot of wheeling and dealing, and you never know if some young guy is going to show up with his whole fraternity, so you have to be a pretty good organizer.”