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A Texas Tiff Over the Dems Debate

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20080215/us_time/atexastiffoverthedemsdebate;_ylt=AorPwdgdoVkcdEhzwCfvqKCs0NUE A Texas Tiff Over the Dems Debate By HILARY
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 15, 2008

      A Texas Tiff Over the Dems Debate
      Fri Feb 15, 4:15 AM ET

      When it comes to Texas politics, Austin is the liberal
      hole in the largely conservative donut, a decidedly
      Democratic city that relies on politics to fuel the
      local economy and feed the social ether. So ever since
      it was announced that Senators Hillary Clinton and
      Barack Obama would hold a presidential debate on the
      campus of the University of Texas on February 21, the
      city has been abuzz with anticipation and excitement.
      That infectious enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to
      disappointment after debate organizers announced the
      event would be closed to the public.

      No one had expected the state's primary to mean much
      when the Texas Legislature declined to join the Super
      Tuesday lineup a year ago. Lone Star political junkies
      resigned themselves to the conventional wisdom that
      the race would be over by the time March 4 rolled
      around. But with many now arguing that Hillary
      Clinton's chance at the nomination hangs in the
      balance, Texas Democrats are enjoying the limelight
      and energized after years of enduring Republican
      dominance at the statehouse. The cry for tickets went
      up within minutes of the announcement on February 11,
      but organizers initially responded that there would be
      no general admission seats and tickets would be
      reserved for the University of Texas, the Texas
      Democratic Party, the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and
      debate broadcasters CNN and Spanish language network

      The not-so-public debate prompted local media blogs to
      explode with angry and dismayed postings. A history
      teacher declared her disappointment since she had
      hoped her high school students might be able to attend
      the historic event. A University of Texas student
      wrote that this was why many young people were
      estranged from the political process, Obama's huge
      crowds notwithstanding. Why call it a "public" debate
      at all, another poster asked?

      The debate will be held in the gym of the Recreational
      Sports Center on the UT campus, one of the
      university's smaller venues, which only seats between
      1,000 and 3,000, according to CNN. By contrast, in
      September of 2006 Senator Clinton delivered a moving
      eulogy at Gov. Ann Richards memorial service in the
      nearby UT Erwin Center, which holds up to 17,000. A
      spokesman for CNN said the smaller gym offers a more
      intimate setting that is suitable for television.

      But that has not halted the criticism, particularly
      among Obama's legions of supporters - the Illinois
      senator attracted a crowd of 22,000 in a downtown
      rally on his first visit to Austin a year ago, and in
      November some 3,000 Obama supporters attended a
      fundraiser at a popular Austin musical venue. For
      grassroots organizers like Ian Davis with Texans for
      Obama the issue has become "an absolute nightmare."
      His phone is ringing all day long as enthusiastic
      Obama supporters want to know why they cannot attend
      the debate. "It could have been a golden opportunity,
      but it's become a colossal headache," Davis said. His
      friends and counterparts in the Clinton campaign and
      in student organizations are telling him they share
      his pain as they also take the heat. "Everyone is
      getting slammed," Davis said. "This is supposed to be
      a fair, transparent populist party."

      UT officials have tried to tamp down the fire by
      saying many students will be in the debate audience
      and a campus drawing for tickets is being organized.
      Late on Wednesday, the Texas Democratic Party
      announced it was freeing up 100 tickets for the
      "public" that would available through a website
      drawing. The total number of tickets available to the
      party has not been finalized, according to state party
      spokesman Hector Nieto, but there are no plans to
      increase the number of tickets in the public drawing.
      Winning tickets are non-transferable and will be split
      between Clinton and Obama supporters, with a few set
      aside for undecided voters. While Austin Democratic
      party officials said they had received a huge volume
      of angry calls, Nieto declined to characterize the
      calls to the state organization. "Obviously we have
      received a significant number of calls and have seen
      increased interest," Nieto said.

      "A hundred tickets for the public? Sheesh, I'd have
      better luck trying to score tickets to an Austin City
      Limits taping," a person with the tag OreganoO posted
      on an Austin American Statesman blog. "Why couldn't
      they have picked a larger venue? Answer: the elite
      want it to feel intimate and clubby. When we see the
      televised debate, the seats will be full of pols, fat
      cats, and smug insiders who earned their seats Lord
      knows how, while the hoi polloi - the people this
      party once claimed to serve - clamor on the sidewalk
      for a glimpse of the candidates."

      Anyone who does not score a debate ticket is welcome
      to pay $50 to attend a screening party hosted by the
      Texas Democratic Party at the Austin Hyatt Hotel,
      state party officials said, and they have dangled the
      possibility that the candidates might drop by after
      the debate. But many grassroot supporters say they
      cannot afford the $50 admission fee. "I don't
      understand the mentality to charge money like that - I
      mean we are the party of the people," Davis said. "I
      don't want to be critical and I know they have tough
      decisions to make...but this is almost like a rookie
      mistake." Davis said the furor over the debate is
      temporarily turning people off, but he expects they
      will be there on Election Day for their candidates.

      Meanwhile, Texans for Obama is organizing a debate
      watching party at one of the city's legendary
      political watering holes. Over 400 self-styled
      Obamaniacs have signed up so far to gather at Scholz
      Garten, an old-style German beer garden near the
      capitol. It is a mythic place for Texas liberal
      Democrats - Davis said his activist parents hung out
      there 30 years ago - and many of the state's legendary
      progressives have gathered under the old pecan trees
      to weep in their beer and berate conservative
      Democrats and, later in the state's history,
      Republicans. It is the spot where in 1972, back in the
      days when they were anti-establishment foot soldiers
      in the George McGovern campaign, the young,
      long-haired Bill Clinton and his bespectacled law
      student wife Hillary drank beer and talked
      passionately about politics. Almost four decades
      later, many of their friends will be amongst the
      Democratic power players who get one of the exclusive
      seats at the debate nearby.
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