|Outsider Dean fires up left
After months on stump, the outspoken Democrat announces presidential bid.
By Liz Marlantes | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON - He's been openly campaigning longer than any other Democrat,
and he has practically taken up residence in Iowa and New Hampshire. So
when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean announces Monday that he is running
for president he is, on one level, stating the obvious.
But Dr. Dean's announcement - delivered one week before the end of the
second fundraising period, and one day before a key online primary by a
left-wing group - also conveys a pointed message: Don't underestimate his
Currently in second place in New Hampshire, and tied for second in Iowa,
Dean has been drawing bigger crowds than most competitors. At cattle calls
and conventions, his fiery rhetoric routinely sparks standing ovations
among liberal activists, and he recently won an unofficial poll at the
Wisconsin Democratic convention.
Like Sen. John McCain in 2000, Dean is using the Internet to amass a
network of supporters - more than 12,000 will gather across the country for
Monday's announcement. He's also relying on conventional, if equally
aggressive, tactics: Last week, he became the first candidate to go on air,
running a TV ad in Iowa.
Of course, nearly every presidential cycle has an insurgent, and Dean may
be the latest in a long line of dark horses who generate enthusiasm on the
trail, but, without significant money or mainstream backing, fail to win
the nomination. Dean's rivals predict he won't sustain his momentum through
the fall, when other candidates begin advertising and voters start paying
Still, insurgent campaigns can take off - as in 1976, when a little-known
former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter won the White House. The Dean
camp believes 2004 may be one of those rare moments when widespread
distrust of Washington insiders - combined with the organizing potential of
the Internet - might propel an outsider to victory.
"This is the first great grassroots campaign of the modern era," Dean's
campaign manager, Joe Trippi, asserted in a recent call with reporters. The
key, he says, "is to make sure everyone understands that this is real."
Dissent on Iraq
The factor with the greatest potential to fuel Dean's campaign may be Iraq.
Certainly, much of Dean's momentum has come from his opposition to the war.
In the runup to the US invasion, his outspoken antiwar stance won him media
attention and many liberal activists' support. More recently, the failure
to find weapons of mass destruction, and US troops' difficulties in
securing the peace have brought more debate - and ammunition.
To some extent, Dean's stance has polarized his party. Centrists have
attacked him: This spring, the Democratic Leadership Council warned that he
represented "the McGovern-Mondale wing [of the party], defined ... by
weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home." But other
aspects of his candidacy don't fit the liberal mold: He supports a balanced
budget and takes a states' rights position on gun control, spurring some
To many, Dean's appeal has less to do with his positions than with his
bluntness, and a willingness to challenge the administration. Even the
enthusiasm he has sparked among many Democrats over the war can be
interpreted as "less about the substance of the issue, and more that he was
willing to be a contrarian,'" says Jeff Link, an aide to Iowa Sen. Tom
Harkin, who's hosting forums in the first caucus state.
Still, Dean's outspokenness has occasionally gotten him into trouble: On
several occasions he has had to recant charges he's made against his
opponents. And some of the same unpolished characteristics that drive
Dean's appeal on the stump fall flat in more formal settings.
Rival campaigns acknowledge that Dean has tapped into a surprisingly strong
vein of liberal rage, not only at President Bush's policies, but at
Democrats' perceived timidity. But while this has given Dean short-term
momentum, many see it as doomed to failure. "There's a lot of fury in
[Dean's] presentation," says Jim Margolis, an adviser to Sen. John Kerry.
"That can ... energize the base vote. I don't think it's a very good
The role of the Internet
Recent polls show Dean has worked his way into contention in both Iowa and
New Hampshire; the question is whether he'd be able to capitalize on strong
performances in those states to pull off wins in the wave of primaries that
follow. For most insurgents, a lack of money makes it almost impossible to
compete at that point, since candidates need to campaign in multiple states
at once - typically, by advertising.
But this is where Dean's campaign is pinning its hopes on the Internet.
Already, a service called meetup.com has connected thousands of supporters
who "meet up" the first Wednesday of every month in locations across the
country. If Dean's online network grows, it could form a grass-roots army
of volunteers to knock on doors and hand out leaflets.
"They're ... playing this two steps ahead," says Michael Cornfield of the
George Washington Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet.
"Where the Internet is going to come in handy is not in Iowa or New
Hampshire, where you have to be in people's living rooms to get their vote,
but immediately thereafter."
It could also prove key financially. Dean has raised more than $1 million
online, more than any other candidate has reported. If he wins more than
half the votes in Tuesday's online primary by the liberal group MoveOn,
he'll gain the endorsement of its 1.4 million members, which analysts
estimate could be worth at least $7 million more.