I really didn’t know what to expect as I drove into Las Vegas last Tuesday morning to cover the CNN Democratic Debates. I was the lone “PolitiChick” going solo behind enemy lines but I was ready for anything.
The first thing I noticed as I walked the long winding maze through the Wynn Hotel trying to find the check-in area for the media, was that there were an inordinate amount of security personnel all around. I turned a corner and immediately ran headlong into about thirty five Nevada police officers being briefed for the day. After that, I immediately saw a group of men and women in black suits and white shirts with the obligatory earpieces plugged into their ears talking softly as their eyes darted about the hallway. Thus began my day as a conservative blogger covering the Democratic Debates.
It was quite a contrast from what I had encountered at the Reagan Library for the Republican Debates less than a month ago. The hustle, bustle and energy surrounding that event was invigorating while this one seemed low key, lackluster and unexciting. For instance, there was absolutely no wait at the media check-in desk, I was the only one. I checked in at around 11:00am so I know that I wasn’t late. I went through the metal detectors with no problem, there were two people in line and then I proceeded to my position in the Press Room. At 11:00am there was virtually no one there. All of the chairs were set up but very few people were in them. I sat down to set up my Ipad and started a conversation with a guy who was reporting for an east coast liberal newspaper. He said that it had been quiet and slow all morning.
I decided to explore the Spin Room thinking that there would at least be something going on in there. As I entered, the technicians were all doing their lighting and sound checks but it was virtually empty. I caught a glimpse of Ed Henry from Fox News looking over his notes, but there was really nothing to see. It’s early I thought, I’m sure it will pick up as the day goes on.
I actually met quite a few really nice people there and I got a feel for what they felt about their slate of candidates. The overall impression I got was that they weren’t excited about Hillary at all, yet almost everyone thought that she would be the eventual nominee. There were a group of young students in red T-shirts supporting Bernie Sanders who were going to be in the debate audience and they were the most energetic of the bunch. In fact, I asked a couple of them why they wanted him to win and they gushed about how he would take everything from the horrible 1% and make sure that people like them would benefit from money taken from the wealthy. None of them had the slightest idea of what it meant to be a “socialist”; they just wanted things given to them. A couple of them were mad because they said that only a few of their group were invited to be in the audience, it was going to be mostly Clinton supporters. They didn’t feel that was fair.
Around mid-afternoon I tried to strike up a conversation with a tall friendly looking man who was standing at the door to the Spin Room. He was obviously a higher-tier security guy, (you could just tell), but he seemed a little bored, so I smiled and asked him how his day was going. His name was John and he said it had been an “ok” day so far. I tried to ask who he was in charge of, but that set off his alarms and he quickly checked out my media badge to see where I was from. I asked some questions and boldly asked if I could interview him but he said no. I asked questions about the candidates, if they were nervous, who was nice, who was difficult, but he just stayed tight-lipped. I could tell by his body language and his facial expressions when I hit a nerve asking about certain candidates. I could tell what he was thinking and he didn’t have to say a word.
Around 5:00 there was a rush of excitement. A photo spray was scheduled for the press as the candidates walked toward the debate hall. I was actually talking to Tim Donnelly live on his radio show right before this happened and I had a great position to check out what was going on. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was coming down the hallway flanked by three or four other women. They were engrossed in conversation and as they passed right by me I heard, “about…Bernie Sanders”, then one of the women said, “Don’t worry, it’s handled.” Hmmmm, wish I could have heard more. Then, Wolf Blitzer came out of the Spin Room. He was getting ready to go on air and quickly grabbed a banana from the snack area. I thought it was so funny because he started a conversation with someone while holding the banana like a handgun! He was motioning and waving it around like a weapon and I thought since this was a hall full of Democrats the Secret Service would have arrested him for having something that resembled a gun!
I stuck my head through the Spin Room door to see if anything exciting was going on, but it was just Chris Matthews primping and MSNBC getting ready to go up live.
I decided to head back to the Press room expecting it to be jumping with anticipation. NOT. Only ¾ of the room was filled and it was just business as usual. Right about that time, the National Anthem started to play. I stood up as I always do and noticed that once again, the press could not have cared less. They sat at their computers and didn’t even glance up. A few people stood, feeling guilty I guess, but you could tell that no one really cared.
Needless to say, the candidates were introduced, a stage inhabited by “old white people”, the guy next to me said. The debate started and it was an endless two hours of Santa Claus promising to give away “free stuff”. The Hillary supporters that the Sanders people talked about were shouting and screaming every time she said something and it was so obvious that this was a set-up “love fest”. The debate was really about Clinton and Sanders and no one else even mattered. The guy sitting next to me slammed his computer shut when Bernie Sanders came to Hillary’s defense on the email matter and shook his head. “I knew it…he just gave her the nomination.” He was frustrated and done for the night.
When the debate finally ended, we all headed back to the Spin room and awaited the candidates’ arrival for interviews. I grabbed a chair by the door to stand on so I could see and waited and waited and waited. Every time it looked like they might be coming there was a crush of microphones and cameras poised high in the air. Jim Webb came in and immediately was taken to the CNN area so no one could ask him anything. Lincoln Chaffee came in but no one was really excited about that. They were really waiting for Clinton and Sanders. Finally one of Hillary’s minions came to the door and said that all of the press had to stand back and be at least five feet from “her space”. We all waited and waited again, but nothing…she never showed. I guess she just decided not to give any interviews except to the “friendlies”. A couple of minutes went by and Jesse Jackson came in. People started throwing him questions and he was in his glory standing there when all of a sudden one of the press guys shouted, “Bernie Sanders!” and pointed to the other doorway. The stampede began and all of the press interviewing Jackson (except for the foreign members), ran with their cameras, lights and microphones toward Bernie Sanders. Jackson had no idea what had just happened but he was dropped like a hot potato. Thank goodness I was on a chair hugging a wall or I would have been run down! I could hear the press questions and most of them were congratulating Sanders on his victory in the debate. That was the feeling among every one there, he had won.
I don’t think O’Malley came in because I never saw him. Wayne Newton made an appearance and some signs were held up that had names on them that I had never heard of, but by that time, it was winding down.
Walking back toward the casino area, the general consensus was that Sanders had won the debate. That was the buzz coming from everything I heard. They said that Hillary was good and she held her own, but Sanders came off the best. That wasn’t the way it was spun though. Right after the debate someone must have sent the word down to declare Hillary the winner because things changed overnight. When I got up the next morning, she was the nominee and there was no question about it. Bye bye Joe Biden…we don’t need you anymore.
Thus ended my 24 hours embedded behind enemy lines. I’m glad I did it because it gave me an insight into how the other half lives and thinks. No one really knew I was a conservative so I didn’t have any problems, in fact, two girls took my email address and they have been sending me inside strategy and talking points that the Dems are going to use going forward. They were actually very nice and very committed to their cause, but they were terribly misinformed on the issues and believed everything their party told them. Still, we got along great. I think a lot of times we judge people on “the other side” of the aisle based on the radical, rabid partisans like Debbie W. Schultz and they base their opinion of us on what they hear from the radicals on our side.
It was interesting and I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience it firsthand.