Five years ago tonight was maybe the best night I ever had in politics. Best victory party ever. Best crashing of the gate. But it didn’t happen in New Jersey.
Five years ago, I was in a crowded print shop hastily slapped into a campaign HQ for Ned Lamont’s upstart primary challenge to Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, who functioned – along with others like Rob Andrews of NJ – as a chief propagandist for George Bush’s big lie of WMD’s in Iraq. This was Bridgeport, Connecticut. I got pulled in by Jim Dean, DFA Chair and brother of founder Howard Dean. The Deans were a study in brotherly self-control. Howard, then-Chair at DNC, couldn’t get near endorsing one Dem over another, but he had just run for President on the same anti-War platform 2 years earlier. Jim was all-in. So was DFA.
Bridgeport Lamont HQ was an undulating mosaic of open laptops, pizza boxes and water bottles, TV cameramen stepping over canvassers on 10-minute break, and people speaking in half-sentence shorthand. DFA signs everywhere, SEIU’s purple bus parked outside. A woman came over to yell me back onto the phone bank. But one of the CT bloggers told her that every time I got on my computer, New Jerseyans piled into cars pointed at the Nutmeg State (one of those was future NJ Senate candidate, and my DFA compatriot Jeff Gardner).
Jump with me. Back to CT, then forward to NJ.
Tim Tagaris, Lamont’s internet guy, reminded me a few hours ago that tonight is 5 years. See, 2006 was the year of Crashing the Gate, a scorching indictment of a Democratic Party that had compromised away its core, dismissed populists and had no idea how to transact the internet-fueled organizing of 2004 (largely Dean campaign driven) into retaking leadership (Dean would show them, with 50-State Strategy). Heady times for bloggers. But blogging only told the story CT Dems were ready to tell.
Lamont and the people of CT, and the bloggers they drew, made it easier for Democratic congressional candidates around the country to be more outspoken against the war, to run on a platform of discrediting Bush. One of those was Linda Stender, whose feisty 2006 race (which she nearly won nearly won against the odious Mike “the Schmerguson” Ferguson), was exciting as hell.
Three thousand people – at least 500 of them journalists from all over the world – crowded into the Four Points Sheraton in Meriden. Into the halls. Lobby. Parking lot. Pool. First race I ever saw with a bloggers room. When Ned’s win – close – was announced, the sound was deafening, the release extraordinary. Victory was a thumping call of Bring them home! broadcast all over the world. (watch). What we felt that night was that the real Democrats were here, the anti-war activists banking on the shift of voters against the war. Sea change.
With me, I had a very young DFA friend I knew as witty and brilliant, but very quiet. That week, she sweated out 3 long, hot canvass shifts every day. She was amazing. Victory night, we finally CT just before dawn. My quiet friend was bouncing in my passenger seat so hard that she smacked her head on the car roof. “My whole life just changed! My whole life just changed!” she said, over and over. And it had. Within weeks, she zigged into her first-ever job in politics and moved to Washington. She’s not quiet any more. Sharon as metaphor. None of us are quiet anymore.
You know how it ended. Lieberman, humiliated in August by Dems, prevailed in November – but only because Bush loyalists backed and financed his campaign. But there was no putting the genie back in the bottle after August 8, 2006. We saw how you could buck not only Republicans but your own Party, if you have to. How progressives, even in a state represented by a GOP-enabler like Lieberman, could drive a surprise win. And how bloggers belonged there.
Lamont was also where I started to raise my standards on Democrats. Christie enablers don’t deserve my support, or yours. And they won’t have it any more than Bush enablers did. Here’s to more victory nights, Blue Jersey.