Voters size up candidates at Democrat Day

Sunday, July 13, 2008 | 10:04 p.m. CDT; updated 2:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
While prospective buyers survey the table of baked and donated items, Vicki Hobbs adds in the brownies donated by the Chris Kelly campaign for the auction at the Boone County Democratic Day at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

COLUMBIA — Although there wasn’t a stump, Democratic candidates from across central Missouri still had a venue to outline their platforms to loyal party members on Sunday ­­— and it was free.

The Boone County Democrat Day at the Boone County Fairgrounds provided a unique opportunity for Democratic candidates from across the county to meet and speak with supporters and people curious to learn about the many different candidates. Held in the large multipurpose building at the fairgrounds, those in attendance spoke personally with candidates at their booths and listened to their “stump speeches.” Some candidates from outside Boone County who are running for statewide positions, such as state treasurer, along with 9th Congressional District candidates not from the area also came to speak.


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“Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has so many good candidates you’ve got to come to forums to find out what they stand for,” said John Batye, a local carpenter’s union member who attended the event. Plus, he added, there’s a free meal.

The afternoon’s itinerary featured stump speeches by all candidates in contested primaries, a live auction, a keynote speech by Missouri House Minority Leader Rep. Paul LeVota, awards for outstanding grass-roots organizing and a free dinner.

Carl Niewoehner has been active in the Democratic Party since 1948. His father was out of work for three years during the Great Depression, and since the New Deal reforms, Niewoehner has been a staunch Democrat, serving two terms as a Missouri House member back in the ’60s. He always tries to make it out to the Democrat Day.

“We’ve lived here 52 years,” he said of himself and his wife, Gloria. “I don’t think we’ve missed any.”

Niewoehner even remembers the days when they actually put a huge tree stump up on the platform for candidates to speak on. But stump or no stump, he loves to see the energy generated at the event — especially this year.

“I think the need is more real this year for change,” he said.

Boone County Democrat Day used to be known as the “Yellow Dog Democrat Days” and was usually held on a Friday night and a Saturday, said Phylis Fugit, Boone County Democratic Party chairwoman.

Why “Yellow Dog Democrat?”

“Well, if the only choice you had was between a yellow dog and a Republican, you’d still vote for the dog,” Robert Dollar, one of the attendees said.

Fugit said four or five years ago they changed the event to Boone County Democrat Day and stopped charging for tickets.

“We felt like it would give people an opportunity to come out and see the candidates free of charge and show that we were interested in their ideas for the party,” she said. “Lots of people never see a candidate except on TV or in the paper.”

However, the event remains similar to the Yellow Dog Days, which also featured stump speaking and an opportunity to meet the candidates. Fugit also remembers the days when they still used the stump and said it was probably still lying around somewhere.

“The thing was pretty lopsided,” she said. “Some candidates almost fell off. I was always worried someone would get hurt.”

Robin Remington, a Columbia resident active in politics, said she tries to attend as many events as she can so she can support the candidates “whose issues she finds most compelling.”

“I’m less interested in the stump speeches because I’ve heard the stump speeches,” she said.

Her favorite part is the awards given out during the program for active party members.

“I like to see the awards because they give credit to people who have grass-roots dedication over a long period of time with little recognition,” Remington said. “They’re the ones that make democracy work — when it works.”

But for some people, this is only the first or second time they’ve attended, as they see this as an important election year. Priscilla Bevins said she has been paying more attention and is more active in politics this year.

“Both in state and nationally, Democrats just have to win because the Republicans have made a monumental mess,” she said.

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