"Daily Show" Democrats: Are You Ready for Your Close Up?

New York nightlife has always been popular with foreign tourists. Last week the most notable, and incongrous, foreign visitor to Manhattan clubland was Iraq War veteran and Pennsylvania Congressional candidate Patrick Murphy who brought his campaign to Happy Valley, the nightspot named for Penn State 's idyllic home. Murphy came flashing his indie cred with a lineup of comedians known for snark, including MTV's The State mastermind Michael Showalter.

Murphy, a babyfaced former paratrooper and JAG lawyer, drew the same crowd Senator Kerry did at a campaign event at Crobar in 2004: the Williamsburg set – mostly white, mostly male, and most likely 11 years old back when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton appealed to Gen X'ers with his saxophone skills. While the hipsters sipped Stellas and G&T’s downstairs, Murphy looked ready to indulge in his state’s official beverage, milk, with the wrist-banded contributors on the balcony.

So what's the rationale? Has this Sixth Borough candidate lost his way, fishing for votes in the other Five? Or is this simply a calculated strategy to raise funds from an untapped demographic, Daily Show Democrats -- youngsters who are cynical about politics, disdainful of politicians, and are driven by little more than their zeal to take down the Bushies?

Either way, the midterm elections are less than nine months away and Democratic insider stage whispers say 2006 will be for them what 1994 was for Congressional Republicans – they will win back the House of Representatives.

At least that's the dream.

Murphy may be virtually unknown outside his home state, but his candidacy suggests that Democrats have not given up on winning Congressional seats by attacking the GOP from the moral high-ground of a war veteran. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aside, Senator Kerry has been touting at least three Iraq War vets running for Congress, including Murphy, and helped them raise over $300,000 this March by simply putting his name at the top of an e-blast.

The entertainment lent the thirty-something Murphy the kind of indier-than-thou aura he needs to distinguish himself from the damaged party he represents. It's also useful when deflecting the self-deprecating irony that haunts the Democrats. It says: Murphy may be "in" the Party, but he certainly isn't "of" it.

So, what kind of acts get this demographic in a “giving” mood? Showalter provided his brand of deadpan humor to a crowd immune to earnestness, in politics or entertainment. His monologue catalogued ten years of guilty musical pleasures, appropriating and subverting the self-reflexive nostalgia of shows like VH1's I Love the… series, itself a guilty pleasure. Dave Matthews' "Crash" inspired a riff on a frat boy in cargo pants and birkenstocks, pumping a keg as a prelude to a date rape. And he took a shot at the hypocrisy of Christian Rock, jamming air guitar to Creed's "Take me Higher," and calling out frontman Scott Stapp for doing to God what he did in a recently released sex video starring Stapp and Kid Rock.

Nick Kroll, co-author of Bar Mitzvah Disco, this year's coffee table book for the ultra-hip wing of the Tribe that came of age in the 1980s, served as Master of Ceremonies. His Catskills-hack-on-acid shtick included a skit one could have called "Fear Factor: Barney Greengrass Edition," featuring his signature cocktail: the Tuna Martini. Kroll had the New York crowd in stitches, but the entourage upstairs didn't seem to be getting it.

On the surface it all seems sort of random and, depending on which floor you were on, funny. But considering Pennsylvania's importance in the Dem's strategy to win back at least one branch of government, they are desperate to get energized in the Post-Gore, Post-Kerry era.

Now candidates are facing the challenge of casting themselves as exciting, engaging and serious for a generation that has been let down by legitimate news sources and looks instead to the self-described “fake news” outlets. A recent headline from The Onion -- "Democrats Vow Not To Give Up Hopelessness” – is especially poignant.

So this decade, after six years of defeat, they are cranking up the irony to 11 with the hope of building a base of bourgeois bohemians who have never made a monetary political contribution, but would have no qualms about spending $100 a "plate" to see, say, blog-rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Irving Plaza or the Strokes rocking the Hammerstein.

But will the strategy work for the midterm elections, and more importantly the 2008 Presidential? Or will all those "Jon Stewart for President" t-shirts be just another cheeky piece of jetsam revived in ten years for VH1's no doubt ironically titled I Love the 00s?

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