Here at Netroots Nation, the annual convention of liberal online activists that’s now under way at the San Jose Convention Center, I just had a casual sit-down with Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean.
Also joining us was Charles Chamberlain, who’ll rejoin DFA as executive director in August after finishing his stint leading Progressive Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s foundation arm.
DFA is the national grassroots group and PAC that grew out of the 2004 presidential campaign of dean’s brother, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean – who also briefly dropped by our chat today, but didn’t stick around.
Jim Dean said he relishes Netroots Nation – where bloggers, petitioners, organizers and all kinds of online activists are bustling from seminar to panel discussion to exhibit hall now through Saturday night – because he gets face time with “people who are from places where things are difficult” for liberals, from Alaska to Florida.
“It’s a great way to better understand the work that other people are doing and to figure out how to leverage that,” he said, getting “a global view of all the different things – you want to do all of them, but you can’t.”
Dean said DFA tries to balance issue work with election campaigns to make the most of both. Right now the focus in Congress is on student loan interest rates and protecting Social Security and Medicare, while down in the states, things like fracking and campaign finance reform are taking center stage. But by later this year, he said, DFA will start drilling down into specific state and congressional races for 2014.
Here in Silicon Valley, Dean and Chamberlain said, DFA will be taking a close look at former Obama administration official Ro Khanna’s Democrat-on-Democrat challenge of Rep. Mike Honda – and that’s not good news for Khanna.
“Nothing is worse than a Democrat that’s ‘Republican lite,’” Chamberlain said, singling Honda, D-San Jose, and freshman Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Springs, for praise. “I can’t imagine we’ll stay out of either of those races.”
We talked about how Jeremy Bird – Obama’s national field director last year – is now helping to run Khanna’s campaign, even thought Obama and most other prominent Democrats have endorsed Honda. They know Bird, who cut his campaign teeth in part on Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign; they questioned why he’s working for Khanna now, and we discussed the “Silicon Valley wants to hack Washington” narrative that Khanna’s campaign is offering.
“I think the word ‘hack’ is probably right,” Chamberlain with an eye-roll. (UPDATE: I’ve been asked to clarify that he’s talking about Khanna there, not Bird.) “Look, everybody has to make decisions about who they’ll support … but this is a really questionable decision – the president has endorsed Honda, he’s a great progressive. It’s really shocking to me that anyone who considers themselves to be a progressive would be on the opposite side of this campaign.”
Jim Dean made it clear that DFA has made no endorsement yet. But when he looks at Khanna, he said, “I’m looking at a guy who can raise a lot of money, but it almost seems he’s running for office just because he can.”
Bird is presenting later today at a panel on “The New 50-State Strategy: Keeping Our Edge in the Ground Game,” and Khanna has a booth reserved in the exhibit hall and a press availability scheduled for tomorrow; Honda is scheduled to be on stage during tonight before U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., gives a keynote speech. We’ll see how all of them are welcomed.
UPDATE @ 4:18 P.M. FRIDAY: Khanna fires back.