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Obama And Clinton's California Kumbaya

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For those on the far right hoping for blood in the streets of Denver, Sunday's meeting of the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention was very bad news. Because of its size, California is sending even more Hillary Clinton delegates to Denver than her latest putative home state of New York. But Sunday's meeting made it clear that both the Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns are ready to turn their swords into plowshares behind the impending nomination of Obama for the greater cause of defeating John McCain.

As I walked into the Sacramento Convention Center on Sunday morning, I ran into old friend Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers and a diehard campaigner for Hillary across the nation. She was concerned that I might have voted for Obama in the primary, and that I was unaware of some of the "bad tactics" employed by the Obama campaign. But, while Dolores continued pushing for Hillary, most of the California political pros I talked with who backed the Clintons have resigned themselves to an Obama-led Democratic Party.

California, of course, looked like a really big victory for Hillary on Super Tuesday. But, at 51% to 43%, turned out to be both not so big for Clinton and a successful strategic feint by Chicago which forced Bill and Hill to spend a lot of time here battling surrogates while Obama himself was off winning other states. Obama spent only half-a-day campaigning in the Golden State down the last week of the campaign, while Hillary added on time and President Bill spent the last two days of the Super Tuesday campaign -- while 22 other states went wanting -- working to lock down for his wife the state he spent more time in during the eight years of his presidency than any other.

Now Obama runs better against John McCain than Hillary in California in three recent public polls. And in another poll would beat Hillary here if the primary were held today.

Before the full California delegation met Sunday afternoon, the Clinton and Obama delegates met privately in their own caucuses. Hillary won 204 pledged delegates in California to Obama's 166. (There are also 71 superdelegates, with many still publicly uncommitted.)

The Clinton delegates caucus was run by John Emerson, a former top aide in the Clinton White House who is now an LA investment banker and a national finance co-chair for Hillary. The Obama delegates caucus was run by Obama state director Mitchell Schwartz and former California State Controller Steve Westly, the ex-eBay honcho-turned-top venture capitalist who was Obama's first California co-chair and is a national finance co-chair of the campaign.

While comments in the Clinton and Obama delegate caucuses were off the record, I was able to discern some important things.

The Clinton crew is in a rather mellow mood. There was little anger there. The watchword of the day was cooperation with the Obama forces. Emerson noted later that his campaign had placed some very capable people on the national party's credentials committee (where they might push for the ultimate version of Hillary "victories" in Florida and Michigan), including himself and former Governor Gray Davis chief of staff Lynn Schenk, in the event that Hillary decided to continue the fight towards the convention. Which does not seem at all likely.

Meanwhile, the Obama forces did much the same thing, with former LA Congressman Mel Levine, a principal champion of Israel and skilled litigator, also on the credentials committee. But as Westly pointed out, the goal of the Obama forces is to be magnanimous in victory with the Clinton delegates.

Westly reportedly instructed Obama delegates to be nice to the Clinton delegates and to not engage them in arguments about the campaign.

Emerson reportedly told the collected Clinton delegates that the key goal is for Democrats to sweep California and win the White House. That while they continue to strongly back Hillary, there are two strong Democrats and each is worthy of being president of the United States.

While the Clinton caucus was largely mellow, the Obama caucus was more fired up, with Westly leading chants of "Yes we can" intended to be heard across the gulf between the two private caucus sessions.

When the two camps came together after a brief lunch break in the sweltering capital city -- just try finding a reasonable place to eat on Sunday in 102 degree heat in a city where the sidewalks are rolled up rather early on a Saturday night (I ended up with the champagne brunch in the non-union hotel Arnold Schwarzenegger calls his gubernatorial home) -- it was kumbaya time.

On behalf of the Clinton forces, Emerson -- who was best man at my wedding and my colleague in the Gary Hart for President campaign -- nominated Senator Dianne Feinstein to be chair of the California delegation and state party chairman Art Torres to be managing chair of the delegation. On behalf of the Obama forces, former state Controller Westly -- who I remember telling when he joined the start-up eBay that it was some kind of online garage sale and, you know, best of luck with that -- seconded Emerson's motion.

Everything continued to go very smoothly after that, with both the Clinton and Obama camps concurring on unanimous votes for all the add-on delegates, alternates, and party committee members.

At a press conference later, while the delegation meeting dragged on -- fully 70% of the California delegation has never been to a national convention, so there is no little amount of trepidation to be overcome about the logistics of participating in the Denver confab -- California Democratic Chairman Art Torres pooh-poohed the notion put forward by Republicans that McCain can contest for the Golden State's electoral votes because of some Obama weakness with Latino voters. Torres himself has not endorsed, but his sister backs Obama.

Torres predicted that "John McBush," as he calls him, would use the notion of his backer Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's two victories here, which he views as a very different matter, to "con" contributors to give money which will end up being spent elsewhere.

I asked Emerson and Westly to talk about how they'd come up with such a smooth set of agreements between two campaigns that have been contesting the nomination so hotly. Emerson has been helping run delegate selection in California since 1984, when he and I did that for Gary Hart.

He said that this process was easier than the last three -- in 1996, 2000, and 2004 -- in which the nominee had long since been decided. He and Westly and the other Obama backers, said Emerson, simply decided "to agree not to disagree."

Sad to say from the standard media point of view, the story out of the California delegation is that both sides are very ready to cooperate.

Meanwhile, another top Democratic strategist who has been supporting Hillary, Steve Maviglio, arranged for the green wannabe utility Pacific Gas & Electric to pay for carbon offsets for all travel and activities of the California delegation, its guests, and attendant members of the media during Denver convention week.

Maviglio was the press secretary for former Governor Gray Davis, ousted by Schwarzenegger -- who is now, ironically, his good friend -- in the dramatic 2003 California recall election. He then became strategist and spokesman for California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a national co-chair of Hillary's campaign. But Nunez has stepped away from the Assembly speakership due to term limits.

So Maviglio now works with new Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, the first African American woman to serve as an assembly speaker anywhere in the US.

Bass, as it happens, is part of a leadership shift in California politics. For, unlike Nunez, she is an Obama supporter. As is the politician selected to replace Clinton backer Don Perata as leader of the state Senate, Darrell Steinberg.

Things have changed a great deal in California politics since February 5th, when the Clintons made what turned out to be their last stand in the state they have called their political crown jewel since 1992.

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