Conversations at the Portland Kerry Rally

Jeff Alworth

kerry.portlandFrom where I stood with my merry band of converted Deaniacs (I the lone Kucitizen convert), the day seemed hot, and the pacing slow. Bursts of interest--Leo, Bon Jovi, David Wu--were punctuated by long periods of speculation about when the next burst might come. We heard something like nine speeches and two (live) songs. This gave me a little free time, so I took it by chatting up some of the folks there.

It was a crowd typical of Portland, diverse by any measure you could find save one--race. I don't know how to gauge crowd size (and it's especially hard when you're in the middle), but it was a healthy showing. The bowl of the South waterfront is roughly stadium-shaped, but smaller. So what, 20k? Going in there were some anti-abortion activists with seriously gruesome signs, but they weren't getting a lot of attention. Mostly the crowd was lighthearted, cheery, and optimistic--there was definitely a feeling that 2004 is the Dems' year.

I started by seeking out younger voters, and there were lots to choose from. With a self-selected group like you find at a political rally, it's hard to draw any conclusions about what the electorate as a whole will look like. Nevertheless, I was struck by how many young people were there.

I started out with a trio of lefty-looking late-teens (two 19 and one 20 years old); they all had their bottom lips pierced and sported a healthy aura of grrl power. Had it been a Bush protest, I wouldn't have been surprised to see them in anarchist black. Yet they were surprisingly enthusiastic about Kerry. One had been registered Green, but decided to re-register Dem so she could vote in the primary. They thought he was good on the environment and the economy. Even though they were anti-war, they were comfortable with his position there, too. Of course, they were down on Bush, but they had genuine affection for the Johns. When I asked how close he measured up to their perfect candidate, they gave him an 85%. Solid.

Next I found a 30ish couple who looked like they might be among the few who hadn't made up their mind. No Kerry paraphenalia, no overt signals of pinko tendancies. I was close to the mark--he was a businessman, she a stay-at-home mom--but they were not undecided. The husband worked for a company that arranged conventions and did marketing for Fortune 500 companies. When I asked how business was, he surprised me. "We were doing pretty well until about April, and then across the board business started drying up. No one is spending money right now. It's been dead." That's odd--April was about the time the business mags and media started declaring the economy truly back on track. Apparently corporations--the ones who are funding Dubya--aren't sold on the health of the economy. It was clear to this couple that the blame lay squarely with Bush.

I continued to poke around for people who might have a unique view on the election. I found a Vietnam vet (IDed by a USMC tattoo), a nice couple with rainbow buttons about whose sexuality I did not enquire, and a family of four. Yet I continued to hear the same kinds of things. In what would become a theme, I asked about Kerry, and they told me about Bush. A few memes turned up: Iraq as a holy war/Dubya as a Christian crusader; Bush's, ahem, mental skills; and Bush's mendacity.

Still, when I probed further, most people expressed sincere support for Kerry--not just Kerry as the not-Bush option. "Kerry was the best of all [the primary] candidates." "His service in the senate shows his moral credibility and experience to handle the job." Of all the people I spoke to, only the vet expressed reservations about Kerry. But not in the way you'd expect--he was still considering Nader. "It's all about jobs for me," he said. Turns out he was a casualty of the Bush economy and was looking for a job.

No survey is complete without a trip to the other side, though, and so I dug around until I found a scrappy little group of Bushies on the safe side of the orange fencing. There were vollies of invective flying back and forth, but I managed to persuade one of the rebels over for a chat. He was student of poly sci at the University of Chicago, and apparently came prepared with talking points. When I asked him why he supported Bush, he had the moxie to tell me, "for the opportunity he provides to lower and middle class Americans." Wow. I pressed him on how exactly Bush would accomplish this. Something about a little-known Bush plan for child care. But when I asked whether he seriously thought it would be better than Kerry's plan, he declined to answer.

What was the most surprising about our exchange, though, was his open-mindedness to Kerry. He said he hadn't heard enough policy positions in the convention speech. He wasn't sure what Kerry's platform was. (I told him it was online.) Still, he said, "I want to hear what Kerry has to say." I asked him if he planned to stay for the speech, and he said he probably would.

"Enjoy it," I told him. Then we shook hands and I went to listen to Kulongoski.

  • kamajii (unverified)

    So much for the intellectuals at UofC. Poly Sci? Not sure of Kerry's platform? Jeeez. You should have offered artificial respiration.

    I presume (hope) you're going to tell us more - I missed the rally, and you wouldn't expect a self-respecting blogreader to read a newspaper would you?

    When Kerry and Dean were in Portland, the cops had the bushies surrounded. Dang that was great.

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    The bowl of the South waterfront is roughly stadium-shaped, but smaller. So what, 20k?

    Mentioned this in another thread, but: Portland Fire & Rescue's latest attendance estimate is... 50,000.

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    I figured this thing would be so well-covered you wouldn't really need analysis from yet another person. That's why I went into psuedo reporter mode to capture something at least marginally fresh. The thumbnail is really the optimism. It was just surging through the crowd--people really are starting to feel it. I think the fact that Dubya was in town motivated people to show up--a "our crowd is bigger than your crowd" response. (On which subject, B!x, I refer you to my admitted ignorance. More than a dozen people, and I don't know how many people are in a room. I also get lost easily.)

    There's a tipping point in this election. Portlanders were trying to trigger it.

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    Well, it's not like that was my estimate. I wouldn't even hazard a guess when I was there. Just figured I'd pass along the closest thing I'd heard to an official number.

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    Some other bits.

    If ABC News covered any of it tonight, I didn't see it.

    NBC News showed Bush's event in Beaverton, and Kerry's "front porch" event in Springfield, referring to it as Portland and showed no pictures and gave no information about the actual Portland event.

    CBS News, hwoever, opened their campaign story with a wonderful shot of the crowd, which pulled back, ever further, revealing more and more of the sea of people. And they specifically emphasized the "friendlies only" nature of the competing Bush event.

    Finally, since the 50,000 figure is what seems to be what the media is picking up (those that are bothering), use this Google News search to track where it's getting play.

  • Cab (unverified)

    Anyone catch the Statesman Journals front page.
    A rather Large picture of Bush with "Oregonians rally for Bush" and at the bottow a smaller shot of Kerry's back with the title "Kerry draws record crowd in Portland" Talk about twisting the inclusion card. What no "Oregonians" at Kerry's rally, just those Portland Hippies. They also don't mention the "loyality Oath" that people had to sign to get into Bush's event.

  • Bob R. (unverified)

    Regarding the reported 50,000 crowd size:

    According to KATU, the Fire Bureau came up with that estimate, saying that there were 25,000 inside the event and another 25,000 outside, such as along Naito Parkway and on the Hawthorne Bridge.

    From where I was standing with a friend, it was easy to rotate around and take in the whole crowd. Using a very subjective standard of past experience: (Going to 4 Burning Man events with roughly 30,000 in attendance), I'd say that the crowd inside the security area was less than 30,000. Definitely more than 15,000, probably 20K to 25K. That was my thinking before I heard the official Fire Bureau numbers, so I was happy to hear they came out in-line. Usually these things get radically underestimated and played down by the media.

    • Bob R.
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    Rob, if that's the case, I wasn't so far off after all. I could only see people inside the event. I didn't learn until later--here, actually--that there were people who didn't get in.

  • bill deiz (unverified)

    The Oregonian estimated 50,000 folks at the Kerry rally...and Kerry/Edwards are using that figure on their official campaign Website.

    My only complaint about the local TV coverage was that the cameras I saw did not capture the magnitude of this crowd...just bits and pieces. I would have loved a helicopter shot...or failing that, at least a shot from a better vantage point than I saw on TV.

    However, there is a great still shot on the Kerry/Edwards site that really gives a great feel of the crowd. It looks southwest and shows the stage upon which Kerry and company are standing for his speech framed by humanity.

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    Bill, I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that helicopters were barred direct flyovers by the Secret Service.

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    Cab- response from editor of Statesman included in today's paper. I'd believe him.

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