Like crabs in a barrel, the Democratic candidates competing for a shot at Sen. John McCain's Senate seat seem hellbent on dragging one another into the muck, much to the chagrin of fellow Democrats like myself.
Last night, Rodney Glassman, former Tucson City Council Member, appeared at Drinking Liberally. This is nothing new — political hopefuls routinely make a showing at DL during the campaign season in hopes of increasing their public profile, and (since DL has the reputation of hosting one of the most difficult political audiences in Southern Arizona) showing off their mental muscle on the relevant issues. And, since Glassman is a relatively unknown local Tucson politician who has been criticized as being too "wet-behind-the-ears" to hold a U.S. Senate seat, he needs to do both if he hopes to make it out of this year's primary.
What was surprising about Glassman's appearance last night was the drama surrounding the event.
It turns out that earlier this month, a blogger named Three Sonorans (who writes over at the Tucson Citizen and who volunteers for Glassman's Democratic opponent, Randy Parraz) was planning to broadcast last night's DL event live. Three Sonorans wanted to confront Glassman with "a yes or no question" based on a recent interview with Arizona Illustrated wherein Glassman refused to state whether or not he supported deportation of undocumented immigrants. (You can see the anti-Glassman attack video documenting the relevant parts of the interview on YouTube here.)
According to an email circulating the DL listserv, Glassman's campaign – fearing a political ambush – requested that event organizers discourage the use of video cameras at last night's meet-and-greet. This request translated into the owner of The Shanty (where the event was hosted) stipulating that Three Sonorans (and possibly other attendees) leave their cameras in their cars so that the bar didn't become a political warzone.
At this point, I want to note how bizarre it was that cameras were barred last night. DL's mission is to increase politcal participation in part by facilitating access between voters and candidates — which video recording clearly does. Cameras have always been allowed at every meet-and-greet hosted by DL that I have ever attended, even when event organizers were aware of a potential political ambush. Heck, even Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – arguably one of the most high-profile guests DL has had — was not immune; she was videotaped at a DL event being put through the ringer by a number of anti-war protesters a couple of years ago. So, why was that policy changed for last night's event with Rodney Glassman?
In any event, I tend to agree that staging a political ambush on a fellow Democrat is a questionable tactic, even in a hotly contested primary. True, primaries (sort of by definition) tend to have all the grace and sophistication of a barfight; this is the time when candidates — who frequently agree with one another on 99% of the issues — make political hay out of that other 1%. But muck-flinging and ambush tactics benefit no one but incumbents, particularly when the infantile finger-pointing results in the kind of inflammatory he-said-she-said drama exemplified by Three Sonorans' anti-Glassman Tucson Citizen blog post wrapping up the events of last night. If Three Sonorans wanted a straightforward answer to his straightforward question, he shouldn't have asked that question in the context of trying to catch Glassman in a "gotcha" moment. Let's leave such underhanded tactics to the Republican party.
That being said, I'm disappointed by the Glassman campaign's efforts to limit recording of last night's public event. I can appreciate wanting to protect your candidate from being immortalized in embarassing video and audio, but Glassman is putting himself up for a national Senate seat. He has already made headlines by refusing to commit to debates against fellow Democratic primary candidates. That coupled with this latest flaptrap cultivates a perception amongst undecided voters that Glassman can't handle unscripted situations — or, worse yet, that he isn't interested in publicly interacting with colleagues and opponents who disagree with him.
Rodney Glassman may be campaigning to be the Democratic Party's Scott Brown, but his attempts to control being caught unscripted in a "gotcha" moment is a little less Scott Brown and a little more Sarah Palin, who routinely barred press and pre-screened questions at her campaign events.
As a U.S. Senator, Glassman will have open mics contantly shoved into his face. He will have to debate Republicans and fellow Democrats in a cogent and compelling manner so as to best represent the interests of Arizonans on the Senate floor. Political opponents with greater clout and savvy than Randy Parraz will try to stage political ambushes with more dire consequences. I (honestly) have no opinion on whether or not Glassman is qualified to be our next senator, and as a hardcore Democrat, I support any Democrat over John McCain (or ultra-right-wing J.D. Hayworth). But, from a political strategy standpoint, if Glassman hopes to have a shot at the Senate this year, he can't afford to appear ill-prepared for the rigors — and the unrelenting spotlight – of this job.
Yet, sadly, even if we take nothing else from last night's drama, we learn from his reluctance to be filmed that even Glassman has doubts about his own readiness for the big leagues. How, than, can he hope to convince the rest of us?