Friday, December 02, 2005

VPO on the Conventional Wisdom

VPO wrote one hell of a response in the comment section to my last entry. He attempts to weave together a number of different threads and explicitly present the conventional wisdom on why the DCCC is (and to some degree, why they ought to be) backing Filson over McNerney. He then raises a number of questions that problematizes this conventional wisdom.

I’m posting this here because it really nails some of these ideas down in a very clear and straightforward manner. Because of this, I want to make sure everyone sees it. I’m sure it will provide a benchmark of sorts for our future debates on the subject.

Please understand that following is somewhat de-contextualized, so read the comments to which he was responding if you have time. Also, when reading the following please keep in mind that VPO was not committing himself to sharing these lines of thought so much as articulating them for the sake of the debate. I am certainly not committed to the following reasoning either.


Ok, just to finish this line of thinking out, the theory the DCCC seems to be operating on is:

The DCCC evaluates what is needed in the District, selects a man with centrist views and a military background (and rejects McNerney). Though the DCCC would prefer a candidate with political experience (say, Mike Machado), they take who they can get at the time, and decide to "make him a star."

The grassroots on the other hand tend to be passionate people with strong beliefs that are generally leftists in the Dem party. So therefore, the grassroots candidate is often too far to the left. Yes, he can motivate the determined activists -- the progressives and liberal wing of the party -- in ways a centrist cannot, but that does not necessarily translate to an election win.

So in this view, the DCCC is being a bit smarter as far as the election as a whole by finding someone middle of the road and thus more "electable". The idea is that as long as their candidate can present a reasonable message and attract centrist voters, perhaps even some Repub moderates, they feel they could have a winner.

The implication of this view is that grassroot activists and leftist/progressive candidates are marginal and not exactly unimportant, but just people you don't want to give much say in things. A progressive candidate is "unelectable" and would not play well in Washington anyway. The left wing will get behind the Dem candidate anyway, since the only other choice is Pombo.

In summary, the District is right-leaning, so the Dem candidate needs to be that way also.

I don't know whether all that is true or not, but I am trying to parse the DCCC reasoning on this and see if it makes sense on the ground.

It is very interesting to hear from Jesse, who is a moderate Dem, but sees McNerney as too liberal and far left. That is a very telling statement, and I am very glad Jesse has added this to the discussion. I wonder what aspects of McNerney's platform are too liberal and far left even for a Dem, and what Filson/DCCC's views are on those same issues that make him more appealing?

Also, my discussion above uses a lot of labels, like left, progressive, centrist. What exactly do these mean? The political discussions tend to fall into easy to use categories, but it seems the issues are so complex these days, the categories hardly fit.

So Filson is being called (or calling himself) "centrist" -- what exactly does this mean? It seems in this race the biggest point of differentiation between "left" and "centrist" is the views on the Iraqi war. "Centrist" says maybe it was a mistake, but we need to see it through. Filson says he is not anti-war, but "anti-failure".

McNerney on the other hand is calling for timetable for a withdrawal (and Ensign is still examining the issue, it seems, but she has been critical of Bush and the war in her Stockton Record columns).

Perhaps that is the biggest difference, and one the DCCC, it seems, thinks is critical to attracting the "moderate" voters.

There must be other issues where McNerney/grassroots are perceived as too far left, but Filson/DCCC are seen as more palatable to the voters of the district. Would those be gay rights, abortion, environment, energy development, poverty, transportation, healthcare -- any of these?


Anonymous Jesse said...

Matt and VPO, I am not connected with DCCC. Beyond what I read in the newspapers and on-line, I don't know why they have decided to help out in this District. I assume its because of Pombo. I find it hard to believe that a 2004 McNerney loss by 59,995 votes would prompt them to take any action. I could see if it had been a loss by 1,000 votes or by 10,000 votes maybe. If you have specific numbers, I sure would like to see them on this blog.

I don't find the DCCC offensive. I see them as good Democrats trying to help achieve a Democratic majority in the Congress. In fact, as I live in the 10th Assembly District, I wish that there had been a state "DCCC" to have put forward a candidate in that race in the 2004 general election.

You are both right that issues are important in this race. I hope to give you my thoughts on them too. Please be patient with me as I'm just learning about blogging.

10:51 AM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Oh, the 59,995 votes is the difference between Pombo's vote total of 163,582 and McNerney's vote total of 103,587. California Secretary of State, 2004 Elections Statement of the Vote

12:48 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is nothing centrist or moderate about corporatism, unfortunately that is what the dlc is all about, and that's precisely is who is influencing the dlc. You can call it centrist, moderate, whatever you'd like, but the direction, policy, and supposed leadership of those at and affiliated with the dlc and the dlc line of thought have hurt our party, our middle class, and our country with regards to jobs, the war in iraq, and so on.

4:45 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

influencing the dccc and the democratic party (with the exception of the dnc under dean)

4:46 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

VPO, I'll repeat here what I entered in the previous posting because I feel it is important to me.

I did not say that McNerney was too liberal for me. I said that I thought McNerney was too liberal for the majority of voters in this District. Our Democratic Party has great diversity in it and I respect all Democrats' views, liberal or otherwise.

In the 2004 primary election, I did not write-in McNerney because I did not know anything about him. In the general election, I voted for him because he was the Democratic candidate and I was not about to vote for Pombo. In this primary election, I am supporting Steve Filson for the reasons I gave previously and which I hope to elaborate on in the future.

But I want to make it clear that I do not believe McNerney is entitled to be the Democratic candidate in this election simply because he was the 2004 candidate. The is especially true when you consider that McNerney didn't even face a primary opponent in the 2004 primary election.

5:22 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


1) McNerney's loss to Pombo, however extreme you think it was (and it certainly wasn't close), was one of the closest races that a Dem challenger ran against a Republican Congressman in California. Remember McNerney, ran an underfunded, abbreviated campaign with no institutional support from the Democratic Party and still did a lot better than most other Democratic challengers in California.

Furthermore, he kept it relatively close everywhere but San Joaquin County. There are a lot of reasons to account for his loss in SJC. But one big reason is the complete and utter lack of an effective Democratic Party infrastructure in the county. Margee Ensign said she was considering running in 2004 but there was nobody in SJC to help her. She wasn't kidding. The Democratic Party has consistently allowed the grassroots infrastructure to deteriorate in that area. Except for recent events, some of which were complete due to the McNerney Campaign of 2004, the Democratic Party has written SJC off.

(Note, I know that there are Democratic elected officials in SJC, but it's pretty clear that they're more interested in running their own machine than in building the party. This, at least, has been a common opinion voiced to me).

2) Nobody finds the DCCC offensive per se (okay, maybe the Republicans). In fact, everyone dearly hopes that they stay committed to this race after the primary is over.

The point is that the DCCC is not omnipotent and they've managed to rub a lot of people the wrong way with a heavy-handed approach in this district. It's the district's decision who to support in the primary, and frankly the DCCC shouldn't be meddling like they are here. If you disagree, you should at least know that the DCCC has officially pledged their neutrality while simultaneously helping Filson. I assume it's clear why that pisses people off.

3) I challenge you to concretely explain how McNerney is more liberal than Filson. What criteria are you using? Filson calls himself "moderate" and "centrist" but aside from being less opposed to the war, he hasn't staked out any positions that conflict with McNerney's. On gun control McNerney at least seems to be more conservative than Filson. And frankly, as a father of an airman, it doesn't surprise me that McNerney feels strongly about getting our armed forces out of the mess in Iraq. Certainly, now that John Murtha has called for a withdrawal "as soon as practicable," McNerney's position can hardly be described as part of the left wing of the party.

4) Nobody has ever said McNerney is entitled to the nomination. All people have argued is that he's entitled to a fair fight for the nomination, meaning that big power brokers in Washington shouldn't prejudice the primary. Furthermore, it's Filson who's consistently said that he's entitled to be the candidate because of his support from Washington. Filson doesn't even want to have a primary. He wants the candidacy handed to him on a silver platter.

5) I think your point about McNerney not facing a challenger is exactly wrong. McNerney fought like hell to get on the ballot when no Democrat was running. This included him fronting $10,000 of his own money for a recount after he did not initially qualify for the ballot (it was later refunded since he gained enough votes through the recount). But the point is that McNerney stood up when nobody else would, when standing up to Pombo was difficult and unpopular. It certainly does not make him entitled to get the nod, but it's won him the loyalty of legions of grassroots supporters. As a candidate he has his flaws. But his supporters know that in him they have found someone who isn't afraid to fight for what he believes in. And they are pissed off that the DCCC, after not doing a damn thing for the district in last twelve years, would come in and try to railroad McNerney now that Pombo looks vulnerable.

5:48 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

MATT and VPO, thank you for the gracious welcome. I see the potential in this Blog as a place for the community to voice its opinions about candidates and issues in the 11th Congressional District race.

VPO, I'd like to know whether you supported or worked for McNerney in the 2004 campaign? I think it is important for readers [or is "bloggers" the appropriate term?] to know where you are coming from in this campaign. But I will respect your privacy if you don't care to say.

BABALOO, hello, I also would like to ask you the same question.

6:29 AM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Matt, you have made some fairly broad statements with which I strongly disagree. Or, to put it in positive terms, I agree with some of your statements but only to a very, very limited extent. I'll address some here and address some later as time permits.

Matt, I'm not going to get into this DCCC issue beyond what I said before.

Matt, I fundamentally disagree with your description of the San Joaquin County political infrastructure and the people that play a role in it. But I don't know that I care to respond to your generalizations and opinions about the motivations of people. I respect your right to hold these opinions.

But, I will make these comments about my perception of the Democratic party in San Joaquin County. I was raised in one of the poorest areas of Stockton. I've lived in the 11th Congressional District since I returned to the area in 1988. I have not been politically active in recent years for personal reasons. Over the years, however, I have been politically active in partisan and non-partisan races. I think that I know enough about the people in the Democratic party here to form an opinion and disagree with you.

Matt, I believe that any serious candidate would be able to mount a campaign in this District for any partisan or nonpartisan race. But, also, just because somebody is able to mount a campaign, it doesn't in itself make him a serious candidate.

7:14 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

In response to Jesse:

Matt and I are different people with different opinions. We don't agree on some things about the race, but we have fun here discussing it. Kind of like sports, where you discuss the team and the players. You may not agree, but you sure like talking about it. So we do it in that spirit, though of course this race is much more serious in its consequences than a sports game.

That said, I want to start another thread here on "The state of the Dem Party in SJ county", since that seems to be a point of contention and needs further discussion. Look for that soon.

And on supporting McNerney in 2004, yes I did. I have had the site up since after the 2002 election, so that is 3 years now. No one was running against Pombo in 2004 until McNerney stepped up, so all of us involved supported him. I tried to help where I could -- sent in some $$, did precinct walking, went to meetings, put up signs, etc.

In this election, I am not "officially" supporting anyone at the moment, just observing and commenting, and sometimes meeting and talking directly with the candidates. I am taking more of a news and analyst approach at the moment, as the whole race fascinates me, on this level:

How could a group of supposedly sane people -- that is, the people of the 11th District -- continue to re-elect such a far right cretin as Pombo? Are they as opposed to environmental regulation as he is? Do they support the gutting of the ESA, the drilling in every place possible, the selloff of public lands, the continued use of highly toxic pesticides, the denial of global warming, the hunting of whales, etc?

What could possibly motivate ANYONE to vote for this corrupt, unethical, far right extremist, let alone 60% of the District?

Are they unaware, fooled by the media and Pombo's propaganda, or are the rationally making such a decision to vote for him?

I find all this morbidly fascinating -- how grown adults, presumably rational and educated, could vote in someone so against their own interests of health, safety, and a clean environment, who, in addition, has performed so poorly for the District in terms of air and water quality, transportation, poverty, jobs, etc., as Pombo has.

It is mind-blowing that Pombo gets re-elected, when you look at it this way. There he is, all pompous and arrogant, using the government as a propaganda machine, milking lobbyists for campaign dollars, enriching himself and cronies, looking to pass legislation to destroy our natural heritage, and doing basically nothing for the people of the District.

Maybe this time, the people of the District will, for their own good, wake up and vote him out of office. After all, last year, the Red Sox won the World Series after many years, and dispelled the "curse". So next year, the 11th District can do the same -- VotePomboOut and rid us of the "Pombo curse".

8:50 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...

I've had someone who was elected to the Dem Central Committee of SJC (and not a McNerney supporter at that) tell me what I've written about the SJC grassroots.

But for those who don't want to take it on authority. Here are some things to think about.

The SJC Dem Party website lists all of the Democratic Clubs in SJC. If you look you'll find:

1) The Democrats of Greater Stockton (AKA the Dogs), which were chartered in 2004.

2) The Latina Democratic Club was chartered in 2005.

3) The Democratic Club of Greater Tracy is still being run by its founder, who started the club as a supportive response to McNerney's 2004 campaign.

Every single grassroots person I've spoken to has told me that the Dogs and the Latina Democratic Club are the big, active grassroots Democratic organizations in Stockton. They didn't exist this time in 2003. So I see some life in the SJC grassroots. But their formation was almost certainly a response to the complete dilapidation of the grassroots in SJC.

Furthermore, the majority of the other Democratic clubs in SJC meet in Stockton. However, a good forty thousand Democrats live in the part of Stockton not in CD-11.

9:14 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...

PS. If it wasn't clear, I did not intend the list of Demo clubs to be exhaustive. There are others. My point is that a significant portion of the clubs were formed very recently.

9:16 AM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous babaloo said...


Hello back at you and welcome to the mix!

The answer to your question is that I did NOT support Richard Pombo in 2004. By simple deduction, that would leave Jerry McNerney.

But now we're talking about the 2006 race. Frankly, all of the candidates have their imperfections; each has his/her strengths. I have not made a final decision on which candidate to support. Like VPO and Matt, however, I do resent the fact that Ellen Tauscher and the power brokers in Washington are trying to exert control over this race.

My goal is to see Richard Pombo lose in CD-11. And to that end, come June, I will give my full support to the Democratic candidate who is selected by the voters of CD-11.

That being said, I am very concerned that Steve Filson's strategy of positioning himself as a "moderate" who is hence more electable is damaging to the party. As both Matt and VPO have pointed out, Filson's positions are very, very similar to McNerney's. By calling himself a moderate and pushing the meme that McNerney is somehow too liberal and out of touch with the district, Filson sets up a straw man that ultimately benefits Pombo; if McNerney does win in June, Filson will have saddled him with an unfair and damaging image.

I understand that you support Steve Filson. But I would join Matt and VPO in asking you to give substantive reasons for that support. None of us are buying the "McNerney's too liberal and out of touch with the district." I'm confidant that you can do better.

12:44 PM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Babaloo, hi, for you the short answer. But remember I want to be able to elaborate at a future time before .

Steve Filson is the only declared candidate that can beat Pombo. He does not have a track record like McNerney's loss to Pombo by 59,995 votes. I see Steve Filson as being a moderate person, and a moderate best fits the San Joaquin Valley part of the District where the election will be decided. Steve Filson will be able to raise significant money to put his message across and sway that middle of the electorate to vote for him rather than Pombo. I believe the Democratic Party and all its constituent parts will get behind his candidacy (along with other Democratic candidates).

There's alot more to my thinking but you will have to wait. I hope this gets posted because I've been have problems through the day just trying to post this and other comments.

8:10 PM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Babaloo, when I refer to Steve Filson, I am refering to his campaign.

Regarding my perception of McNerney being a liberal in the 2004 election, please understand that it is hard to explain how I arrived at this perception because the election was over a year ago and it was a race which I thought at the time involved a non-serious write-in candidate in an election he would not win. But I have a vague recollection of McNerney having an strong anti-war position which I associated with liberal presidential candidate Kusinich. And then I have a recollection that McNerney was talking about wind technology when I believed there were many issues which I felt were more significant.

I'm trying to write short responses so that I have a better chance of succeeding in getting them posted.

8:58 PM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Babaloo, questions for you.

Why do you think that McNerney may win this primary race when the Democratic primary voters will learn that he lost the 2004 general election by 59,995 votes? And, do you really believe that he can beat Pombo in the General Election? I know you asked in a prior posting whether Jerry McNerney (and all the candidates) had a strategy for winning? Has some one from the McNerney campaign answered that question and put it on this Blog? And, the same could be asked about the campaigns of the other candidates, declared and potential. We have six months until the primary election.

9:12 PM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Nicholas said...

Wow, this is a very interesting discussion. First let me introduce myself. Nicholas H. supporter and member of Jerry McNerney's campaign. I am restricted from saying much but I do want to point out that I was born and raised in Stockton. Work brought me to the Bay Area recently but all of my family and friends still reside in Stockton. One could say my upbringing is very similiar to Jesse's yet my take on the Democratics state of affairs couldnt be more different. The reason why no one has been able to beat Pombo is a really simple answer: Nobody has tried. Nobody has attempted to get to know the community (not just the inner political circle) and be a part of the community. Even the previous candidates always lived in a that safe political bubble.

I have many friends who are republicans. Many friends (and family members..expecially family members) who are independent and many of them express the same principle, "we vote on issues..not party affiliation".

So in my book the candidate (filson, mcnerney or margee) who wins this election will be the candidate who connects to the community and who has already proven themselves a leader . this election will not be created by a marketing team. (military vet? yes!! moderate? yes!!!). thats never been the stockton way. and never will be.

so jesse, im curious. class of ??? which year? im stagg high class of 92!! WOOT WOOT!!! ;)

6:21 PM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Nicholas, you're making me feel old with that Class of '92 stuff. I'm close to hitting the 50 milestone, but please let me enjoy my privacy until after the New Year. In due time, I'll let you know, if you care to hear it, how my school used to thump Stagg when I played sports.

Nicholas, why are you restricted from participating in discussion of opinion on this Blog where you have multiple views emerging here. I just starting participating in this Blogging thing, and I don't know why a person would be restricted from giving their opinions on a Blog. I support Filson, have given money to his campaign and I hope to host a party for him in the future, but I'm not a member of his campaign staff. The opinions I state are strictly mine. What are the rules? I wouldn't want to criticize the McNerney campaign for not coming forward and stating their positions or opinions on issues if they are legally restricted from doing so. Give me an idea what are the restrictions.

Hey, I agree completely that issues are what matter to people in the middle, and especially the people who are not registering in either the Democratic or Republican party. Answer my prior question and then I can respond better (more fairly) to you.

But I will say this and it has nothing to do with you or McNerney personally. I greatly respect veterans. I have an older brother who fought in Vietnam during the late 60's, and I respect him as much as anyone I know. His military experience is a large part of his character and my respect for him. I have not served in the military, but I did register when I turned 18. I was liberal in those days, but I chose not to burn my draft card. Those are issues of the 60's and 70's but part of my "heart and soul" and it is hard to respond to statements about the veteran candidates without this explanation pouring out.

6:16 AM, December 05, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Nicholas, I thought I checked this posting yesterday afternoon and evening, and I did not see your comment. Did you see your comment published here yesterday? I wonder what happened?

Nicholas, I want to respond to your take on prior elections, but I want to hear your explanation of restrictions on you before I go down that path because it would be unfair to you if you were legally restricted from replying.

I'm also making a separate comment below about an experience I had yesterday which relates to this discussion.

6:28 AM, December 05, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Nicholas, actually a new "thread" relating to the subject of the state of the Democratic Party in San Joaquin County was created above. I made some comments before under that section. I'd prefer to continue discussion of this subject there.

6:37 AM, December 05, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:52 AM, December 05, 2005  
Anonymous babaloo said...

Jesse –

In your first comment addressed to me, you claim to “see Steve Filson as being a moderate person.” I get that. We all do. But you refuse to answer the question “Why?” If you see him in a certain light, that’s fine; if you want others to see him in the same way, you need to explain, concretely, what he says or does or believes that makes you see him in those terms.

In your next comment, you go on to label Jerry McNerney as a “liberal” but say it’s hard to explain how you arrived at that perception because the election was over a year ago. But you don’t let that stop you from adding, “I have a vague recollection of McNerney having an strong anti-war position which I associated with liberal presidential candidate Kusinich.”

Now, Jesse, REALLY, come on. That is just so wrong on so many levels.

Suppose I said to you, “I don’t know where I got this notion, but I have a vague recollection of Steve Filson killing babies and eating them for breakfast.” Obviously, I have no facts to back up this assertion and I don’t even really own up to making it an assertion, instead calling it a vague recollection. But all of those qualifiers sort of take a back seat to the image of Steve Filson with babies on the breakfast table, don’t they? (And all of this is said with absolutely no disrespect meant to either Steve Filson OR Dennis Kucinich. Steve Filson does not harm babies. Dennis Kucinich was a thoughtful candidate with whom I agreed on many points.) But let’s face it; the media portrayal of Kucinich as an out-of-touch, liberal wacko was so pervasive that any comparison to him becomes, de facto, pejorative. And Jesse, I think you know that, which is why I consider your gratuitous and disingenuous comparison of McNerney with Kucinich to be really below the belt.

The FACTS are that in 2004, Jerry McNerney’s position on the Iraq War was consistent with the Democratic Party orthodoxy: that we shouldn’t have been so hasty in going to war and that we should have had a better strategy once we got there. Jerry McNerney, like John Kerry, called for an improved plan for ending the war, one that involved mending fences with our allies to garner international support for the Iraqi effort. Not exactly the “strong anti-war position” which you allege. As the last year has passed, it has become increasingly clear that the window for pursuing that strategy has slammed shut, and Jerry McNerney has shifted his position to reflect unfolding events. He now supports a structured timetable for withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.

Now, since these labels of “moderate” and “liberal” that you like to toss around with such abandon seem to pertain primarily to the Iraq War (apparently, that’s the only area where there appears to be much daylight between Steve Filson’s and Jerry McNerney’s positions on the issues), I’m going to wade into that swamp here. It seems to me that there are essentially four positions with regard to the war: the first and most “conservative” of these would be that the war was a good idea, reasonably well planned, and worth fighting in perpetuity. Second, one could argue, as Steve Filson does, that the war was a mistake and was poorly planned, but we’re in it now and must see it through. The third position, advocated by Jerry McNerney, is that the war was a mistake and was poorly planned, and that we should develop a formal timetable to withdraw from it in stages. The fourth, and putatively most “liberal” stance, as espoused by Congressman Jack Murtha and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is that the war was a mistake and was poorly planned, and that we should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately. Well, according to my trusty OED, the definition of “moderate” is “avoiding extremes.” If you accept that the first and last positions represent the “extremes” of the issue, you are left with the clear conclusion that the second and third positions promoted by Filson and McNerney respectively are BOTH “moderate” choices.

Personally, I don’t have any problem with that characterization; indeed, it comports pretty neatly with my view of both Steve Filson and Jerry McNerney. And I should also make clear that I don’t purposely exclude Margee Ensign from this discussion; she simply has not stated a formal position on the Iraq War at this time.

Now, to answer your third comment, I presume nothing. I see the potential for this race for the Democratic nomination to be very close; any one of the candidates could easily pull ahead to win the primary. And that’s why it’s so important that they run clean campaigns that do not try to bloody each other. It’s going to be more difficult than ever to beat Pombo next November if the Democrats hand him the kind of ammunition that you seem so eager to provide. If Pombo can point in our direction and say, “Even moderate Democrats say that McNerney is a ‘liberal from the far left of the party,’” or “Democrats have admitted that Steve Filson eats babies for breakfast,” then you and I have done a disservice to our party. Now, truthfully, I don’t think Pombo can make the baby thing stick ;-). But in some circles, being a far-left liberal is almost as bad, and that label is so insidious that once it’s given, it can be almost impossible to escape.

Finally, with regard to my question in an earlier post asking whether the candidates had a strategy for winning, I have to confess that the question was meant to be rhetorical. If any of the candidates does have such a strategy firmly in place to go after independent and swing voters, none has shared it with me.

5:19 PM, December 05, 2005  

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