Actually it was a candidate's forum. This evening, the Little Colorado River Democrats hosted a debate for Democratic candidates running against Rick Renzi in Arizona congressional district 1.
Five Democrats are running. The 'presumed' front-runner (as annointed by the media and the national party in the absence of any data) is Ellen Simon, but she missed the debate because she was in Washington chasing campaign dollars (pretty much lost my vote, which was ripe for the picking when she made that choice-- that's how Rick Renzi does things, and I don't think we can beat Rick Renzi by running Rick Renzi against him.) I did talk to her husband, who was there, and the president of our club read a fax she sent but other than that, she was mostly present only by being the subject of barbs by some of the other candidates.
The four candidates who were there had a lively forum. They were Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman and Vic McKerlie (although we drew randomly for it, they ended up sitting in alphabetical order across the stage.) Winslow city councilwoman Sue Bumpus moderated the debate and the panel was composed of reporters from the Arizona Daily Sun, the Winslow Mail and the Navajo Times.
Clearly Cacciopoli was the most inspiring speaker, and I would have to say that he won the debate. He did say a couple of things that raised a few eyebrows, including his call for a special prosecutor to be called to investigate whether Bush broke any laws before and during the Iraq war. A friend of mine who described herself as 'anti-Cacciopoli' before the debate said that he may have opened a window for her. For me too-- he is right about nearly every issue-- but I'm having a tough time with a huge one.
And that huge one is that he won't necessarily endorse the winner. We both know that means that if he loses and Ellen Simon wins then he probably won't endorse her (as being a 'party' candidate, as opposed to a grassroots candidate. One of the questions from the audience asked whether each candidate would support any of the others, and Mike was very hesitant to answer this question.
Susan Freidman came across as sincere, progressive and thoughtful (which those of us who have talked to her before know is the case). She has worked very hard over the years for the party, and she did run for the legislature one year. She has very little charisma, but she is right on the issues.
Bob Donahue, who also ran in the 2004 primary against Paul Babbitt, is a Vietnam veteran who made it clear that he believes that we are repeating the same mistakes we made there in Iraq. On social issues, he seemed to trend more to the center. He also has thought things through quite a bit, and made a very strong case for raising the minimum wage, cutting through the rhetoric of Republicans who claim it will cost jobs by asking how many jobs that today pay $5.15 an hour aren't in fact worth $7.00 an hour. And his point is accurate-- very few of them aren't worth that. In places where the job market is tight (though not here, unfortunately) even traditional minimum wage jobs (i.e. burger flipper) often pay $7 or more an hour.
Vic McKerlie sort of unimpressed me. He's a good guy and he's right about the need for health care for all Americans, but his first question was about proposition 200 (the Republican party's 'baby' on last election's ballot which as interpreted by Jan Brewer will likely disenfranchise a lot of Navajos and other minority voters) and he wasn't even sure what 'prop 200' was. Then on so many other issues, and especially on immigration and Iraq, he sounded like he's been listening to Rush, or at least reading Republican talking points. If he is the nominee I will support him but I became convinced last night that I won't support him in the primary. That's OK, because he probably won't win.