The Dean Legacy | The Nation


The Dean Legacy

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Trippi's book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is required reading in a class that Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, teaches at Northwestern University. If the Obama campaign naturally understood what Dean was trying to do, even though Dean's candidacy ultimately fizzled, the Clintons did not. "They looked at '04 and said, If Howard Dean lost, those tools must not have worked," Trippi says. He cites Clinton's unwillingness to compete all-out in red-state caucuses as a main reason her campaign is in such a predicament. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos dubbed Clinton's approach--and subsequent discounting of her losses in red America--the "insult 40 states" strategy. While the Obama campaign prepared for the long haul, Clinton poured most of her resources into a few key early states, expecting to have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday. "It's not a very long run," Clinton predicted in late December. "It'll be over by February 5."

About the Author

Ari Berman
Ari Berman
Ari Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation...

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Whoever wins the nomination would be well advised to keep Dean around through the general election. More important than the money he can raise is the consistency he represents, among the netroots and state party activists. "If the Clintons or anyone came in after winning the nomination and said, 'Thank you, Howard. You can go now,' it would be a very divisive and fractious fight," says one Dean adviser. "That's the last thing they'll need."

Because of the small number of Congressional battlegrounds in '06, strategists in DC like Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel could at least make a persuasive case against the fifty-state strategy. But this fall, because of the vastly expanded number of competitive races, they'll have a much tougher brief. With contested Senate races and statewide contests (redistricting happens in 2010 and '11) in addition to a presidential election, many more states will be in play, strengthening the logic of the fifty-state strategy. "The tone and temperature of this argument will be diminished compared to '06," says Joe Andrew, 1991-01 chair of the DNC and a Clinton supporter. "There will be enough money to go around."

The way the '08 race has played out has made believers out of past Dean critics, like Clinton war room veteran Paul Begala. "I'm not a big Howard Dean fan," Begala admits. "But a lot of good things that are happening in this campaign have happened because of Dean." Begala credits him with pushing Democrats to oppose the war in Iraq, cultivating young voters and small donors, and urging the party to compete across the map.

Tradition dictates that whoever wins the White House will install his or her own regime in the DNC. Dean says that if a Democrat wins in November, he does not want to hang around the building past 2009. Yet few in the party believe it's possible, or preferable, to go back to targeting a dozen swing states every two or four years. "You cannot lurch from one election to the next with no game plan," Dean says. "I do believe the Democratic President is going to want a permanent political operation, and I think we're going to leave a very strong one here." Dean says the state party chairs have already persuaded Obama and Clinton to commit to funding the fifty-state strategy, which at a cost of $4 million to $5 million a year is a tiny fraction of the $300 million budgeted by the DNC for '08. "The one thing they should not get rid of is the fifty-state strategy," says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "We need to do more, not less."

Dean had the vision, but others will get or share the credit. It took an Obama to realize the potential of the Internet and grassroots organizing to transform politics. And it will take the commitment of future DNC chairs to the fifty-state strategy to continue building the party from the ground up. "You know the expression, to be a prophet without honor in your own land," says Steve Grossman, Dean's former campaign chair. "That's Howard Dean."

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