Great night last night at the Debate Party at the Hilton. An unbelievable turnout, somewhere between 600 - 700 enthusiastic, well-dressed, good-natured partisans showed up. We filled our designated Hilton ballroom before the debate started and they opened up the adjoining room for the overflow. Powerline, Captain Ed, and Mitch Berg summarize the events, as they happened.
Powerline's John Hinderaker described the atmosphere as reminiscent of a pro wrestling match. And that is accurate, in the best possible interpretation of that characterization. The cheers, the laughter, the groans, and the boos (and the booze) - it was an absolute blast. Not in a way that someone like John Kerry would appreciate. Last night would have been a little too real for him, a little too close to the way people earning under $200K per year actually celebrate for his comfort level. It was an honest to goodness populist demonstration, with all the emotion and behavior that implies. And for many of those in attendance, including me, a revelation.
700 people showing up on a work night, willing to drive into downtown Minneapolis and pay for parking (a HUGE concession for born suburbanites like me), all for the purpose of demonstrating their conservative political solidarity. What planet are we on?
Growing up a conservative in the Twin Cities was an isolating experience. Maybe you had a little cadre of like minded relatives or close friends you could discuss your beliefs with, but that was basically it. If you were a conservative, you never brought up politics in the polite company of strangers or work associates or even friends. And you felt almost embarrassed to admit you listened to the demonized talk radio. The liberals dominated the political culture, dominated the ranks of the political, academic, and media elite, and dominated the ranks of local political activists. To admit to being a conservative was to invite scorn and ridicule from those whose respect you needed or desired. So, for the most part, you shut up and tried not to rock the boat.
But those days appear to be gone in Minnesota. The reasons for this could be the subject of a doctoral thesis, which is slightly beyond the scope of a blog post. But I will say the influence of talk radio cannot be underestimated. The first time I got the sense there were others sharing my political beliefs, a lot of others sharing my beliefs, was when Rush Limbaugh came to KSTP. Shortly thereafter, KSTP hired Jason Lewis and he started applying conservative analysis to public policy on the local scene. He got the average person to think critically about these issues in ways we never had before. And he emboldened an entire generation of local conservatives to believe that they didn't have to accept the status quo in Minnesota politics. And they didn't have to be afraid to publicly speak their mind on these issues.
Last night was the flowering of the seeds planted all those years ago by the likes of Lewis and Limbaugh. President Bush's taking of Minnesota's 10 electoral votes on Nov. 2 would be yet another beautiful bloom in this garden. But even if he doesn't win this one, there's always next time. With all the networking on display last night - people exchanging business cards and involved in a myriad of initiatives, from radio shows, to blogs, to PACs, to newsletters, to campaign volunteering, to private individuals supporting them all with their dollars - one thing is clear, as a political movement, we're growing. And we're here to stay.