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Meet Ed Espinoza: LA’s Superdelegate

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A rollercoaster ride may resemble Democratic National Committee member Ed Espinoza's 2008 but it doesn't paint the whole picture. Rollercoasters don't quite peak like Espinoza's year. He was part of the process which saw his party’s historic candidate elected to the country’s highest office.

His Superdelegate vote (which nominated the Democratic party’s Presidential candidate) earned the 36 year-old Espinoza phone calls from candidates, award-winning actors, and even KROQ’s Kevin and Bean. Last May his Superdelegate vote went to Obama. It was then things really took flight for President-Elect Obama and the Dems (but you knew that.)

Espinoza’s fresh views on the election and Superdelegatehood quickly made him a media favorite. You might’ve caught him on NBC, Cavuto on Fox, or CNN (video below.) His initially-anonymous blog, Mr. Super, gave an inside look into what it’s like to be a Superdelegate. "I tried to shed some light on the process. I think it worked, too," he said. He also blogged the Democratic National Convention for NBC.

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Los Angeles doesn’t have a set Superdelegate (they’re designated by state, California claiming about 75) but LAist likes to think of Ed Espinoza as LA’s Superdelegate. This UCLA and Santa Monica High graduate loves our city. He makes good use of our coast with his surfboard, adores In & Out Burger, and has a great passion for Mexican food (which can leave him painfully hungry when in Washington D.C.) The Bruin surfer even likes house music (John Digweed's his favorite DJ.) We’re happy to have him representing us. LAist had a chance to chat with Espinoza about his past, present and America’s future.

Elected To The DNC at 30 Years Old

Ed Espinoza: I got elected to the Democratic National Committee in 2004. There was a vacancy in the California delegation when former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown stepped down and decided not to run again for his seat. I filed for it, so did about 72 other people. There was a Congressman, a Mayor, a Senator and some other people who ran. It was a lot of competition but I managed to come out on top.

A lot of people active in the party knew who I was, and had seen me do a lot of work. I ran on my record. I had worked for the state party and I had been President of the California Young Democrats. I was 30 at the time, and they wanted a young guy who had shown he was dedicated to doing this stuff.

I worked pretty hard too, running a full-fledged campaign -- phone calls, mailers, that kind of stuff. I even drove around California quite a bit. In the final tally I came out ahead of a couple of incumbents.

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Ed Espinoza, Superdelegate

Once you’re a member of the Democratic National Committee you’re automatically a Superdelegate. I always describe that role like the tonsils of our job responsibilities -- they’re there, everyone knows they’re there, but no one ever really knows what they’re good for (and never really thought we’d actually have a use for them.)

It’s always been like a theoretical thing. Like ‘oh yeah sure someone can win an election without winning the popular vote, but that’ll never happen.’ Low and behold it happened in 2000. Then ‘the election will never come to Superdelegates.’ Of course the election came down to Superdelegates this time.

“The Supers”

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You’re not a Superdelegate on your own by just being a Superdelegate. You’re a Superdelegate by virtue of a another position you hold. You cease to be a Superdelegate when the term of your other position ends. My term ends on the DNC in four years unless I want to run for re-election (and win back my seat.)

It’s different for everyone as some Superdelegates are appointed, some are members of Congress, and some are Governors. But most are elected through the DNC. This year California had something like 40 members of Congress and 30 members of the DNC.

LA Is Home

LA is a great to live in place that has so much to offer. There’s just so much to do in LA and the weather is always perfect. I miss the activity, all the things you can do in one day like hiking, surfing, and skiing. Plus you’ve got the Lakers, Dodgers, and UCLA Bruins.

  • What’s your favorite place to eat in LA if you’re paying? El Cholo over on Western.

On October 2008

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October was exciting and extremely intense -- I can’t even put it into words how intense it was. There was a lot of electricity out there.

We started off a little shaky. Sarah Palin had the convention bump of popularity. Then the debates came around the momentum really started to shift. We started to feel really good about it but we Democrats had been involved in so many elections where we felt good about it. Then we put it on cruise control, kind of rode it to the finish line and got beat because of it. Kind of like the Tortoise and Hare.

This year wasn’t like that. You think about that scene from Glengarry Glen Ross: “always be closing.” The Obama operation and the Democratic Party were just so committed to finishing. “Just Finish” was the motto in a lot of campaign offices. You really had to commit to that, in thinking we’re up in the polls and feeling really good but the election hasn’t started yet.

On Early Voting

If you look at the trend of early votes that was mainly the Democratic party and the Obama Machine pushing everyone to vote early. Most of those votes were for Democrats because it was a Democratic year and because we pushed it so heavily. You saw it in all the states that had early voting.

It also helped eliminate a lot of negative campaigns that take place at the end. Because you had states like Nevada, that saw more than 50% of the voters cast votes before election day (it might’ve been as high as 70%,) it didn’t make sense to do a negative attack a week before the election. A real effect wouldn’t have been felt from it because so many voters had cast their ballots.

  • What’s your favorite place to eat in LA if a Senator is paying? Ruth’s Chris. But they’re not allowed to pay for me anymore.

Californians Helped Big

I spent a lot of the last year and a half in Nevada because it’s the most significant swing state in the western states. We’ve always been bringing people into Nevada but this year it was a lot more organized, there was a lot more enthusiasm. We brought hundreds of people from California in every day, and thousands on the weekends. I think because of that Californians felt they were really making a big difference in this election more so than past elections.

  • What do you miss most about LA when on the road? I miss the weather. I miss my friends. I miss the people. But we don’t have good Mexican food in DC. I would love for El Cholo to open up a branch on Capital Hill. I don’t know where they’d get their ingredients but I wouldn’t care.

How do you rate the Democratic party's utilization of the Internet on a scale of 1-10?

I give it an 11, it's great! One of the things Obama is good at is constantly feeding people information. This election, there was always something: whether it was updates on the campaign, or a viral video, or new commercials, or daily talking points, or events going on in the area. That was really good because it made people feel like they were party of the campaign, like it was a family. It kept people engaged and still does.

A lot of it was proactive --- it wasn’t passive activism. It wasn’t: here’s talking points, go read them. It was: here’s an event, go to it. Or rally your friends. Or travel to this state. There was always an action item in the email. I think that really created more of a sense of duty that people had to act on. Plus Obama was one of the best candidates we’ve ever seen. People loved him. They loved his brand. It was easy to go do work with him.

Was 2008 the most interesting year of your life?

It was definitely been one of them. There had been a lot of attention on what I thinking and how I was going to vote.

Obama’s staff called me up when Bill Richardson dropped out and I became an undeclared Superdelegate. [Espinoza worked for Richardson]

I received other phone calls from actors and other dignities. A lot of calls I got were “hey look at me, I’m a big name and I’m calling you which’ll make you feel really good and vote for my guy.” I felt like I’d be less of a representative if I let that impact me.

What advice would you give those celebrities?

I think that most of them should learn a little more about their issues and really give people a reason to vote on a specific issue. A lot of them use their celebrity status to sway people. That’s fine. There is a lot of value to their celebrity status, and I think that they’re involve at all is great.

I think that when it gets close to an election, there’s a rally and your candidate is on stage with them, and that picture’s going to be in the newspaper, that there’s value to that. But when it’s early on, it’s in the primaries and you want to talk to people one-on-one, I think you need to have something more to say.

Take George Clooney. He has Darfur and a couple of other issue he’s really passionate about. But he has Darfur. I think that’s really important because he can speak to that and people will listen, they’ll engage him on that. There are a couple of other actors who have issues like that and are very effective because of that. They’re already good surrogates because they catch people’s attention. But I think it makes them better if there’s some sort of issue attached.

  • Does our system work? I think so. It’s not a pretty system but I think that our system is a very efficient and it’s constantly open to change. It does need to be fixed but when you look at the alternatives in other countries I don’t think they’re better alternatives. But I wouldn’t say I think it’s completely broken, though it’s popular to say that.

On Barack’s First 100 Days

I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic. He’s got a lot of work in front of him. I think the economy is going to be the big issue. It’s going to be a tough 100 days. We may learn some things that we don’t already know when he takes over the White House and gets a chance to look at the books.

The team he’s put together is one of the best we’ve ever seen. He’s gotten a lot of praise from Democrats and Republicans for putting together such a capable team. It’s a team with credentials -- they’re not just friends of his. They’re people who really know what they’re doing.

  • Who’s your favorite Republican? My favorite Republican was Charles Barkley. But he left the party ‘after they lost they mind,’ as he says.

Would you be open to political consulting in another country?

I definitely would love to. I went to school in London. The Labor Party campaign people work closely with the Democratic people here. A colleague of mine in California goes and works the Prime Minister election every five years.

In England they declare an election and the election is two months later. They don’t have these constant campaign cycles and because of it they have to build their systems and organizations very quickly. They need a lot of help with that. I would love to go back to London and see some of my old classmates, and help with an election like that. And if there’s other countries, that’d be fun too.

Do you think you’ve made a difference?

I think so. I’ve helped elect a lot of great people to public office. The most recent one being Barack Obama. To use an old campaign line: he’s the change we need.

I feel good about what we were able to do over the past few years, and not just electing Obama. I feel good about what Democrats were able to do in terms of resurrecting themselves, and producing a brand that is seen as a viable alternative.

What would you say to young people who want to get active?

Volunteering on a campaign is something that everyone should try once, no matter how old you are. I know people who have met some of their best friends -- even spouses 0- on campaigns. It's an empowering experience whether you're working on a race for President or a local race for city council. Everyone should try it once!

You can also intern in an elected official’s office to learn about the process. That way you can find out what it is you like. Some people are campaign people, some are government people. Some people are interested in but they don’t want to make a living out of it. The only way to find out is to dive in and get your feet wet.

What’s next?

I’m still working as a political consultant. What comes next I don’t really know but there is a lot of opportunities for Democrats right now. I’ve been on the road for almost two years so I’m enjoying not doing a lot right now.

Photos courtesy Ed Espinoza/used with permission
Labor Day March photo by Taylor Coots/used with permission
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The LAist will soon look forward to the Inauguration with LA’s Superdelgate Ed Espinoza. You can read Ed Espinoza, posting as Mr. Super, on the DemConWatch blog.