By Len Lazarick
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Maryland delegates to the Democratic National Convention couldn’t get much farther from the podium at the Time Warner Cable Arena if they tried.
High up in the rafters, with their backs to the wall, they can look down hundreds of feet at the speakers and those favored delegations with highly visible floor seats near the podium – like those from neighboring Virginia.
As if to make up for the poor seats given to states that are taken for granted or given up as a lost cause, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, made the Maryland delegation the first stop of a busy day as she addressed a 8 a.m. breakfast meeting.
“I can think of no place better to start,” Wasserman said. “I know you are very proud to be very blue state. We’re gonna need your help in making sure Virginia stays blue.”
Maryland Democrats for weeks have been staffing phone banks making calls to Virginia.
Wasserman repeated much the same speech multiple times Monday, in venues like the Michigan delegation breakfast next door to Maryland’s in the Embassy Suites hotel in Concord, 15 miles northwest of uptown Charlotte. The themes are ones repeated often by Gov. Martin O’Malley on Sunday morning talk shows.
Obama inherited a bad economy from George W. Bush, goes the narrative, a name mentioned more frequently in Charlotte than in Tampa at the GOP convention last week. Obama has turned things around, established expanded health care coverage for all, and wants to help the middle class.
“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition,” said Wasserman, a breast cancer survivor.
Republicans “seem to want to focus on millionaires and billionaires,” Wasserman said. “Their only focus is on one job – President Obama’s job.”
Broadcast commentator David Goodfriend did something of a reverse Clint Eastwood impersonation for the Maryland breakfast, having a mock conversation with an empty suit he called Mitt.
Asian Americans see growing influence
Among the meetings where Wasserman reprised her pep talk was the caucus of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, a national group chaired by Bel Leong-Hong of Gaithersburg. “Our political influence continues to grow,” Leong-Hong said.
Rep. Mike Honda, who represents Silicon Valley in Congress, said that “Bel has not given the DNC leadership much rest” in advocating for Asian Americans.
Honda noted that the Asian population in Virginia has grown more than 70% in the last 10 years, from 3% to 5.5%. Across the country, “that marginalized population has now become the margin of victory.” He said there are 20 or more Asian Americans running for Congress
In Maryland, 5.8% of the population is of Asian descent
Former Democratic Congressman Norman Mineta, 80, American-born of Japanese descent, said when he was elected to Congress in 1974, the Asian Americans there “could meet in a phone booth.”
Now there are 18.5 million people of Asian descent in the United States, 60% of them foreign-born, but more than half of those (57%) have been naturalized. Thirty years ago, 32% of Asian-Americans voted Democratic, but that has gone up to 62%, Mineta said.
Mineta served as U.S. secretary of transportation for five years, the only Democrat in the cabinet of President George W. Bush, but he could barely stomach the GOP convention last week.
“You thought you were back in the 1950s,” Mineta said. “Their mindset is still back there.”
The Asian caucus was one of several two hour caucuses Democrats held Monday for minority Americans. Others were for Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and others in the Ethnic Council.