The vindication of Howard Dean's 'crazy' strategy

Published: Thursday November 9, 2006

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Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, the former presidential candidate who was once in danger of being remembered for an angry scream, has come full circle. Dean's "crazy strategy of rebuilding the Democratic Party across all states" helped the Democrats achieve success as they captured Congress in the midterm elections, writes Joe Conason at Salon.

"Only weeks after the Democratic National Committee chose Howard Dean as its chairman last year, the nasty whispers began to circulate around Washington and among longtime party donors and activists in cities from New York to Los Angeles," writes Conason. "'He's going to be a disaster,' they muttered. 'He can't raise any money. He doesn't know what he's doing. And what does he mean by this crazy 50-state strategy?'"

Despite his struggles with power brokers in a party he was selected to lead, Dean persevered and is now "enjoying vindication far earlier than he ever expected," the article says.

"What Dean and his organizers created ... was an environment that allowed insurgents and outliers as well as the party's chosen challengers to ride the national wave of revulsion against conservative rule," Conason writes. "Faced with many more viable challenges than anticipated, the Republicans made mistakes in allocating resources -- and were forced to defend candidates in districts that are usually safe."

Conason says that Dean has "reached a peaceful accommodation" with his party adversaries, in part motivated by his popularity among the "unruly netroots." While deliberation over the continuance of the 50-state strategy will continue, Dean has in the meantime "won the argument" he initiated in the planning for this year's midterm.

"There would have been much less for the Democrats to celebrate on Election Night," concludes Conason, "if Howard Dean hadn't been so 'crazy' -- and so persistent."

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[Dean] and his supporters in the netroots movement believed that their party needed to rebuild from the ground up in every state, including many where the party existed in name only. These Democrats prefer to think of their party as one of inclusion and unity. They openly disdain the divisive strategies of the Republicans who have so often used racial, regional and cultural differences to polarize voters.

And they believe that relying on opportunistic attempts to grab a few selected states or districts as usual -- rather than establishing a real presence across the country -- conceded a permanent structural advantage to the Republicans that would only grow more durable with each election cycle.

Breaking that advantage would be costly and difficult, as Dean well realized, but it had to be done someday, or the Democrats would fulfill Karl Rove's dream of becoming a permanent minority party -- or fading away altogether. Against the counsel of party professionals, whose long losing streak has done little to diminish their influence, the new chairman began the process of re-creating the Democratic Party in 2005. And contrary to the gossip and subsequent press reports, he succeeded in raising $51 million last year, about 20 percent more than in 2003 and a party record for an off year.

Much of that money was spent in ways that obviously paid off on Tuesday, including the 2005 election of Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine in Virginia -- where Jim Webb's upset victory over incumbent Sen. George Allen overturned Republican control of the Senate. Several million dollars was spent on rebuilding the party's national voter files, yet another essential sector in which the Republicans have enormous technological superiority.