by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 30, 2004
On Native Ground
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When did Howard Dean's candidacy start to die?
Was it when the man who started campaigning as an outsider got the endorsements of Democratic insiders like Al Gore, Tom Harkin and Bill Bradley?
Was it when the other Democratic candidates began taking him seriously last fall and started attacking him for alleged "flip-flops" on the issues?
Was it when the Washington press corps and the right wing screech monkeys discovered that Dean really was the frontrunner and unleashed one of the concentrated smear campaigns since George McGovern's candidacy in 1972?
Was it when Saddam Hussein was captured and the antiwar plank of the Dean campaign was seemingly taken away?
Was it when the campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire heated up and the Dean staff was exposed as being long on enthusiasm and creativity but short on political acumen?
Was it having to drag his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, out on the campaign trail after folks like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd started questioning what kind of marriage the Deans had because Dr. Steinberg would rather take care of her patients than sit on a podium gazing Nancy Reagan-like at her husband?
Was it in New Hampshire, a state that was seemingly locked up solid for Dean a few weeks ago, where a lead over U.S. Sen. John Kerry - as much as 30 points in some polls - vanished within a couple of days after Dean's third-place finish in the Iowa Caucuses?
Was it raising $40 million last year and shocking the political world, but spending that money so fast to the point where there's little cash left heading into the next round of primaries?
There are many reasons why Howard Dean's campaign is on life-support right now. Perhaps the final blow came the day after his second place finish in New Hampshire, when Dean fired Joe Trippi, his campaign manager, and replaced him with Roy Neel, a former Al Gore aide and former lead lobbyist for the U.S. Telecom Association in Washington.
The man whose campaign trail mantra is "You Have The Power" and who always talked about taking our country back from the special interests is now turning to a K Street corporate lobbyist to run his campaign.
That perhaps is the strongest sign that it's all over for Dean.
Perhaps it was too soon to believe that there really was a paradigm shift. Maybe it was too much to hope for that Dean could spark a movement to remake the Democratic Party and wrest it away from the timid centrists and corporate hacks who ran it into the ground.
John Kerry is not a horrible candidate. I will support him or anyone else who wins the Democratic nomination. But Kerry voted to give President Bush the go-ahead to invade Iraq. Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, voted for the Bush tax cuts and voted for the disastrous "No Child Left Behind" education bill. The man who now appears to be the Democratic Party's choice to take on Bush is someone who more or less voted to support some of Bush's worst policy decisions.
And this is what the political pros deem as "electability?" Are Democrats so determined to beat President Bush that they are willing to settle for imperfection if it means supporting a candidate seemingly strong enough to end the reign of Bush?
Judging from the Iowa and New Hampshire results, apparently so.
But the good news after Iowa and New Hampshire is that there was a record voter turnout in both places. In New Hampshire, more than 214,000 voted in the Democratic primary and many independents and Republicans unhappy with Bush crossed over to cast ballots. Exit polls from New Hampshire showed that more than 80 percent of those who voted in the Democratic primary were dissatisfied with Bush.
And Kerry can thank Dean for this.
A year ago, when the Democrats were cowering and afraid of Bush, Dean went after the president hard. People who were disgusted with Bush - with the fraudulent war in Iraq, with the giveaways to the rich, with the trashing of the environment, with the steady stream of affronts to the democratic process - rallied behind Dean.
Dean - who based on his record as governor of Vermont was the least likely guy to be cast as an insurgent - provided the shot of energy that the Democrats needed. He forced the other candidates to acknowledge the outrage than many Americans have over the Bush administration's ruinous policies.
The young people who flocked to the Dean campaign are the hope of the Democratic Party's future. And Joe Trippi, the designated scapegoat for Dean's failures in Iowa and New Hampshire, showed creativity in fundraising and organizing that the Democrats sorely lacked. If the Democratic Party pooh-bahs have any brain cells left, they need to find a way to keep these people involved and to incorporate the Dean campaign's innovative use of the Internet for organization and fundraising.
The candidacy of Howard Dean may be almost done. But then again, a few weeks ago I thought John Kerry was finished. I would love to be proven wrong again, but I don't think it will happen this time.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.