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Did Howard Dean Win the 2004 Campaign? A View from YearlyKos

BY Editors | Friday, August 3 2007

I’m in Chicago for the second annual YearlyKos convention and since yesterday afternoon I’ve keep coming back to the same conclusion: I think, nearly three-and-a-half years after Dean for America collapsed in the wake of the Iowa caucus loss, that Howard Dean might have won the campaign.


Of course all you “fact-based” people out there will point out that John Kerry actually “won” the Democratic nomination and that George W. Bush actually “won” the general election and is currently serving out his four-year term as President of the United States, but I’m talking about something more ephemeral here. I look around the sprawling McCormick Place convention center here, home for the weekend to 1,400 progressive activists, and I don’t really see any sign of John Kerry’s 2004 campaign or John Edwards’s 2004 campaign. The only person, the only campaign, left standing when the 2004 campaign ended is Howard Dean.


Today the Democrats are Howard Dean’s party and Howard Dean’s people are in charge, including, of course, himself. And, again, I’m not just talking about the paid DNC staff but actually the thousand-plus activists here most of whom seem to have come into DailyKos.com and the Democratic Party through Dean for America, Democracy for America, or the state-level efforts of Dean’s 50-state campaign.


At yesterday’s Democratic Party briefings for bloggers, Parag Mehta, a former DFA staffer, led the effort. At yesterday’s panel on Democratic presidential candidate internet director panel, Joe Rospars, a former DFA staffer, spoke as Obama’s new media director, and, in fact, every single Democratic presidential campaign represented had a Dean internet staffer from either DFA or Dean’s DNC. Many former DFA staff or grassroots leaders have now graduated into positions of influence on the left and are speaking are various panels here. Joe Trippi, the irascible and colorful DFA campaign manager, is here today as the campaign manager for John Edwards’s campaign. DFA donors are behind many of the new enterprises and funding that’s flowing into the party, as demonstrated by the energetic “Democracy Bonds” reception that Dean hosted. And, not least of all, at last night’s keynote address, a matured and thoughtful Dean himself received rousing and passionate applause as he spoke about the political challenges for the party and the challenges facing the nation in the new tech-driven world.


But it doesn’t stop at DFA. The assistant Senate majority leader, Dick Durbin, spoke eloquently as well about the power of the blogosphere and its importance to the future of the Party last night. “You have been a force in nearly every positive change we’ve seen in American politics in recent years,” Durbin told the crowd. Every major Democratic candidate will be here tomorrow for the YearlyKos presidential leadership forum and not a one attended the recent Democratic Leadership Council meeting in Tennessee. The luncheon keynote today was a discussion with Andy Stern, the head of the trailblazing SEIU union chief who more than anyone in the labor movement epitomizes the energy and viewpoint of Dean. The action and energy around the Party is from Howard Dean's people, not within the Washington establishment he took on four years ago.


At the end of the 2004 campaign, where I was DFA's deputy national press secretary, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio that I’m impressed to say still holds up well today:


“Much has been written over the past few weeks about the premature collapse of the Dean campaign…. The campaign obituaries have focused on infighting, control over the campaign checkbook and that wonderfully ambiguous phrase, ‘messaging problems.’ But those stories miss one of the most fundamental aspects of the Dean story: the hope and political empowerment that he gave to so many previously tuned-out Americans.


“It turns out, that much as Dr. Seuss’s Grinch discovered that he couldn't stop Christmas by taking away the presents and the trees, we’ve discovered that our campaign is continuing without the candidate. And thus the campaign's greatest lasting impact might just be the fresh faces that it brings to politics at a local level….


“In my work on the campaign, and my travels and conversations with Dean supporters over the last nine months, I have always been struck by how personally affected they were by the campaign. Their belief in the power of participation has encouraged me to stay involved in politics past the end of this campaign as well.


“Last Sunday, I met John Sykes, one of the four original founders of the Dean online community, for lunch near his home in New Hampshire. We talked about the campaign, and he explained that despite his frustrations and disappointments, he was going to stay involved in politics and community service. As we stood up to go, he paused. 'You know, it may have been just a campaign slogan, but I always felt that I really did have the power,' he said.


“All across the country, people are saying the same thing: Howard Dean was right: The power to change America really didn't rest with him—it's been ours for the taking all along.”


And nowhere is that message and that conclusion more evident and more true than right here at YearlyKos. The power to change America is right here in Chicago today.

Garrett M. Graff is now the editor at large at Washingtonian magazine and the author of the forthcoming “The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.” A native Vermonter, he served as deputy national press secretary on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, and, beginning in 1997, was Dean’s first webmaster.