DES MOINES, IOWA What was this dreary political event really about?
It could not have been about the speeches.
The Jefferson Jackson dinner here Saturday night featured four hours of rehashed, rewarmed, regurgitated campaign rhetoric by six Democratic candidates for president, none of whom dared say much of anything they hadn't said before.
And some of them didn't even say it very well.
So why was the "JJ" dinner actually important?
Because the major candidates use it to see if their campaign machinery is oiled and functioning.
Here is how it works: You are the Barack Obama campaign and you contact those voters who have pledged to support you in the Iowa caucuses next January. You offer those supporters a free ticket to the JJ dinner and you see who accepts.
And then you see if they really show up.
Because if people are not willing to come out on a mild fall evening for a free dinner, they probably won't come out on a cold winter night to vote for you in the caucuses.
So the JJ is a test to see if you are really reaching supporters or just reaching people who say they are supporters.
An estimated 9,000 people showed up here at Veterans Memorial Auditorium Saturday night and the Obama campaign claimed that 3,000 of them were Obama supporters.
"The JJ is a place to deliver a message," Tommy Vietor, Obama's Iowa spokesman told me, "but it is also a place to show organizing muscle. It shows you can get people to show up at the same place at the same time."
At least two of Hillary Clinton's upper-echelon advisers, Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn, were decidedly unimpressed .
"Our people look like caucus-goers," Grunwald said, "and his people look like they are 18. Penn said they look like Facebook."
Penn added, "Only a few of their people look like they could vote in any state."
Even the few memorable rhetorical moments of the evening were tactical.
Obama, who drew the last speaking position, knew he would be speaking too late to make some journalists' deadlines. So Obama released his remarks attacking Hillary Clinton hours before he actually delivered them.
"When I'm your nominee, my opponent won't be able to say that I supported this war in Iraq or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran," Obama said.
John Edwards took on Clinton more obliquely. "Washington is awash in corporate money," he said. "We need desperately to elect a Democratic president of the United States. But it is not enough. We have a responsibility to change this system."
Clinton made no mention of her critics directly. "I am not interested in attacking my opponents," she said. "I am interested in attacking the problems of America."
The rest of the field, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, had a decidedly indifferent evening.
Taking the stage, Biden said: "Hello, Chicago!"
When nobody laughed Chicago being some 300 miles away and in another state Biden said: "It's a joke."
Few seemed to get it.
"It's a long night," Biden said.