BEN CARDIN, THE NEXT GREAT SENATOR FROM MARYLAND
L.A. is a net exporter-- big time-- of campaign contributions. That means we get politicians from all over the country coming here to make their case. Just before I left for Morocco I went to a get-together for Lois Murphy, a progressive Democrat favored to take a seat from a right-wing nut in eastern Pennsylvania. I met Obama the same way and barely a week goes by when an invitation doesn't come in from someone's campaign. Next week, for a contribution between $250 and $2,100, I get a chance to meet Ohio Senate candidate Paul Hackett at a fancy party in Beverly Hills. I tend to pass on the ones with mandatory contributions and, when possible, the ones in Beverly Hills. (Besides I've donated to Hackett, know a lot about him-- more than I'm going to learn from shaking his now celebrity hand and hearing a stump speech-- and my feeling is that Sherrod Brown is probably at least as good and when Ohioans decide in their primary who faces DeWine, I'll get behind the candidate the pick.) Last night, on the other hand, I was invited to a meet-and-greet in The Valley and there was very conspicuously no price of admission. And no big names that I recognized attached to the invitation. As a matter of fact, the guest of honor wasn't exactly a big name himself: Congressman Ben Cardin from Maryland who's running for the open Democratic senate seat in Maryland. He should be though.
I went. My strategy: get there early and maybe the candidate will be there and you can meet him before he's swamped with people whose nephew knows his daughter's neighbor in a Baltimore suburb. It worked; he was sitting in the living room, very accessibly, when I arrived. And I got just what I wanted-- an opportunity to see what kind of a person he is. I mean I had already read up on his record as a House member and as a candidate. The record is impeccable-- progressive, a fighter, smart and active. I wouldn't have bothered to come otherwise. But when you get a chance to talk with a candidate one on one you get a different kind of feel. In Ben Cardin's case, it was easy as pie-- friendly, unpresupposing, eager to go beyond platitudes... the kind of guy I would have once said would be easy to sit down and have a beer with-- except Bush ruined the efficacy of that description; and I've never tasted beer in my life.
Cardin is best known among politicos for his work on the House Ways and Means Committee. Like our own Henry Waxman, he's got more of an intellectual bent to him than you expect from a congressman. He tries-- real hard-- to figure things out that work. He's a leader when it comes to health care, anything involving pensions, Social Security, IRAs, complicated fiscal issues that send the Randy Cunninghams and Dick Pombos and Bob Neys of the House running for their golf clubs. Cardin seems to get excited about things that make people-- his employers-- have better lives. He drafted the legislation to expand Medicare coverage to include preventive measures against things like prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis... the kinds of "unsexy" legislation that address real needs of real people. I got the feeling that these are the kinds of things that motivate and drive him.
Cardin, unlike more than half the Democrats in the Senate, voted against Bush's unjustified and catastrophic attack on Iraq. Judging by the applause when that vote was mentioned in the introduction, I'd say that was the reason most of the people in the room were there. But Cardin, who says that was an easy vote for him and that he was never deceived by the Bush Regime's patently false claims about Iraq having a hand in 9/11, says that the issues in Maryland are more mundane: things like education and health care. He's running against a well-financed right-wing cardboard candidate who may not be brilliant but is smart enough to not announce any of his positions on any specific issues in a pretty Democratic state. Cardin should be able to wipe the floor with him.
And the not asking for a donation as the price of admission? That seemed to have worked really well. After Cardin spoke people were clamoring to give him checks! I didn't have my check book with me but I made up my mind to start an Act Blue page for him here at DWT.