Brent Batten: Empty-chair jokes making the day of Democrats at their convention

BRENT BATTEN
President Obama sculpted from sand from Myrtle Beach, S.C.   Photo by Brent Batten / Naples Daily News

Photo by BRENT BATTEN // Buy this photo

President Obama sculpted from sand from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Photo by Brent Batten / Naples Daily News

Corey Booker speaks at DNC

He fires up the base in Charlotte, ...

Lavon Bracy of Orlando sports an Obama hat that drew the attention of delegates, the media and even Newark Mayor Cory Booker at Tuesday's delegation breakfast. Photo by Brent Batten / Naples Daily News

Photo by BRENT BATTEN // Buy this photo

Lavon Bracy of Orlando sports an Obama hat that drew the attention of delegates, the media and even Newark Mayor Cory Booker at Tuesday's delegation breakfast. Photo by Brent Batten / Naples Daily News

Brent Batten

Brent Batten

Daily News columnist Brent Batten joins a team of Scripps Howard News Service reporters in Charlotte, N.C., this coming week to cover the Democratic National Convention. Beginning Sunday, look for his reports as part of the Daily News’ expanded coverage of the convention, which is Tuesday through Thursday. And check naplesnews.com/dnc for more convention stories and photos.

CHARLOTTE, N.C _ Florida Democrats 570 strong on Tuesday heard the outline of a game plan they hope to use to re-elect President Barack Obama come November.

It is a course of action that will involve grassroots activism, a spirited defense of the Obama record and a sprinkling of empty-chair jokes.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith and a series of speakers characterized the campaign of Republican nominee Mitt Romney as one boosted by millions of dollars from so-called Super PACs, groups that are able to raise unlimited cash to pour into TV ads.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner addressed head-on the question that has been emanating from the Romney camp ever since last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Citing rising stock values and stability in the financial sector, Warner declared, “America is better off than it was four years ago.”

He characterized the Republican message put out at their event as one based on mischaracterizations and outright lies. He called the Republican platform, “The agenda of the past.”

The PAC money threatens to overwhelm the Democrats, Warner warned: “They think they can drown out our efforts by having more and more wealthy people write checks with more and more zeroes on the end.”

Like nearly every Republican to speak to Florida Republicans in Tampa, Warner and others, including rising Democratic star Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, reminded the state’s leading Democrats how important Florida will be in the election.

Booker drew laughs from the 300-plus delegates and their guests when he described turning his ankle on the way to the event. He thought he might give his talk from a chair until aides pleaded: “Don’t bring the chair. No chair, Cory.”

It was the second time a reference was made to Clint Eastwood’s ill-received empty chair bit on the last night of the GOP convention.

Mike Abrams, a Florida Democrat who helped sponsor the breakfast, pulled an empty chair alongside himself on the podium and cracked, “That’s Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is talking to an empty chair. Mitt Romney is making empty promises.”

As it turned out, Booker needed no props.

His remarks were the most spirited of the morning, crediting Obama for achievements including the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and changes to the student loan programs.

“I know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” he said in a crescendo.

Booker, who is one of Tuesday night’s featured speakers, cautioned the delegation not to get caught up in the negativity of the race.

“We are not about the rhetoric and the bashing. We are about ideas,” he said.

Like Warner, he said the Democrats’ path to victory is based on grassroots: “Will we get out our vote? Will we organize our community?”

For all the emotion Booker generated, an even more poignant moment came before, when Smith told the crowd that his son, who is 25, has come down with a rare form of cancer and is beginning chemotherapy.

Changes to health insurance rules passed as part of Obama’s signature Affordable Patient Care Act means the law student still is covered by his parents’ insurance and can get insurance in the future, in spite of the pre-existing condition.

“He would have been uninsurable,” Smith said.

A nation as wealthy as America shouldn’t be lacking of universal health care, Smith said.

“Every Democratic president … has recognized that. Every Republican candidate has opposed it.”

* * * * *

Charlie Crist’s interactions, or lack thereof, with Florida Democrats continue to be a topic of discussion among the delegation.

Crist, the former Republican governor turned independent, is scheduled to address the full convention this week.

But there was no sign of him at the delegation meeting and state party officials say he isn’t scheduled as a breakfast speaker.

* * * * *

The name of Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz appears on the front of the access badges that permit entry to the Democratic National Convention.

Not even Barack Obama can say the same.

Wasserman Schultz, who does double duty as chair of the Democratic National Committee, took center stage to gavel the convention to order promptly at 5 p.m. Tuesday, one more bit of evidence that Democrats, as well as Republicans, view Florida as the pivotal state in the November election.

“Over the next three days we will hold the most open, most accessible convention in history,” Wasserman Schultz began. “We will clearly demonstrate why we need to keep Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the White House.”

Wasserman Schultz’s work earned her home state a shout out from U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the convention’s parliamentarian. “Thank You Florida,” he said to cheers.

In all, a record 6,000-plus delegates are attending the convention at downtown Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena, with a Thursday finale planned at nearby Bank of America Stadium.

Florida’s 300 delegates were seated just off the arena floor to the speakers’ right. Such a large group would be hard to place on the crowded floor level.

From his seat 10 rows up, Steve Hemping, vice chairman of the Collier County Democratic Party, scanned the crowd and made an observation in contrast to the Republican convention in Tampa last week.

“It’s night and day. The diversity here, not just who’s here but the diversity of thought, of opinion, is fantastic,” he said.

After a day at the convention, his first, Hemping said the message directed at Florida is coming through loud and clear: The state is key and if Democrats are to win it they will have to do so at a grassroots level.

“Every vote in Florida is going to be important. It’s going to be close. It is every time. But we’ve got boots on the ground. We’re registering people. We’re as confident as we can be but we’ve still got to get the people out to vote,” Hemping said.

Just as he did when speaking to Florida delegates in the morning, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker fired up the crowd with his high-energy delivery.

Taking the stage after Wasserman Schultz turned over the gavel, Booker gave an abbreviated version of his morning’s remarks.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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