Howard Dean’s Vindication

howarddean.jpgGod-o-Meter wrote a piece for today’s Roll Call on the vindication of Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean’s much-derided 50-State Strategy, which is largely about reaching out to the nation’s more religious voters in the red states:

Years before Barack Obama showed that a liberal Democrat could win in red states like Indiana and Virginia–and seriously compete in North Carolina and Missouri — there was a lone Democrat in Washington, D.C., who was talking up just such a scenario. In fact, from the moment Howard Dean took over the Democratic National Committee in 2005, he set about re-engineering the national party to meet that goal, plowing millions of dollars that had traditionally been used for TV ads into a new program aimed at organizing every part of the country, including its most Republican enclaves, from
the ground up.
Dean called it his 50-state strategy, and much of the Democratic establishment opposed it from the start. As the 2006 midterms approached, then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) — now in line to be the next White House chief of staff — griped that Dean was starving him of funds in what was shaping up to be a golden opportunity for Democratic gains. “There is no cavalry financially for us,” he told Roll Call.
Even after the Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2006, party elders like James Carville argued that they could have won even more races had it not been for Dean wasting money in the Deep South and other long-held Republican territory.
But Dean persevered with the decidedly unglamorous party-building tactics of the 50-state strategy: providing salaries for three or four new staffers (field organizers, press
aides, fundraisers, technology experts) for nearly every state party and training them to
use the DNC’s newly modernized voter file. “The model for party building was the Republican National Committee,” Dean says. “We copied almost everything and improved on it.”
Three years later, Obama has realized Dean’s vision, winning five states that had
been in the Republican column for the past two election cycles and coming close in a
handful of other such states. And though he’s received almost none so far, Dean deserves a good deal of the credit.
In Indiana, the 50-state strategy gave the state Democratic Party enough money to nearly double the size of its staff by hiring a full-time communications director and three
field directors. That infrastructure not only helped the Democrats defeat three Republican lawmakers in 2006, it also gave the Obama camp a big leg up when it began organizing the state in earnest last spring. “Laying the foundation for what’s happening now all occurred during 2006,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said just
before Election Day. “Democrats at the national level didn’t think they could win here
before that.”
In North Carolina, which at press time was still too close to call, the state Democratic Party used its new DNC windfall to hire regional political directors who developed strategic plans with every county chairman in the state for the first time. Last summer, the Obama campaign began supplementing that network with hundreds of its own workers. In previous years, that grass-roots army would have been starting from scratch just a few months out from Election Day. “Local party leaders are always skeptical whenever the national party comes down in the last minute and says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,'”state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said. “The regional political directors have become permanent intermediaries between local leaders and the national
party, so that hostility toward outsiders no longer exists.”
Even before the presidential race, Meek saw the rewards of a beefed-up staff, as Democrats widened their majorities in the state Legislature and picked up sheriff and county commissioner spots in traditionally Republican western North Carolina in 2006.
That has made it easier for the state party to field candidates in other Republican-dominated areas. It helps explain how Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan was able to
handily defeat North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) this week.
“I didn’t think there was ever any questionthat the 50-state strategy was going to
pay off,” Meek said. “The surprise is that it’s paying off so fast.”
The 50-state strategy did more than fatten state party payrolls. After fixing the DNC’s glitch-plagued voter file, Dean opened it to state parties free of charge and
insisted they learn to use it, sending holdouts to remedial training in Cleveland. “We
got technology that predicted with 85 percent certainty how someone would vote
based on their credit card [purchases],” Dean said. “The Republicans had that for
Dean is reluctant to take credit for Obama’s red-state victories. “The reasons why
we’re doing well in these states has more to do with him than with me,” he said in an interview just before Election Day. “It was fortuitous that we complemented each other …
you have someone running the party with a 50-state strategy and a candidate with the
ability to appeal across a lot of the lines that the Republicans drew in America.”
Indeed, most of Obama’s success in the red states is his own. His grass-roots forces
ultimately dwarfed the DNC organizing effort, and his message was designed to transcend the partisan divide. But that’s just evidence that Dean’s 50-state strategy, once widely derided as a costly diversion, is on its way to becoming party orthodoxy.
Emanuel and Carville declined to comment.


Comments read comments(2)
post a comment

posted November 23, 2008 at 8:09 am

While I normally don’t agree with much on a religious-purposed web site, this article nailed it. Well said!
I was one of those Deaniacs of 4 years ago and still define myself politically as being a Dean Democrat. As someone active in state and local politics, I’ve seen first-hand what Howard’s 50-state strategy can do. And it isn’t just about presidential elections. He told us to “show up everywhere”, then put his money where his mouth is.
Over the last 4 years, the DNC has supplied my very red county with personnel, technical resources and training that we never had before. And we started winning down-ballot elections, which is really what the strategy is all about. We don’t win every one, and we do have setbacks — nobody said this would be easy. But at least we have a fighting chance, and the Democratic establishment no longer ignores us.
I am proud to have helped laid the foundation that allowed Obama to win. And thank you Howard, we couldn’t have done it without you.

report abuse


posted January 3, 2009 at 6:11 pm

interesting article, i am not much into politics and this is the first year i have ever voted, obama, i was surprise he won those states

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Closed for the Season
With Election Day finally having come and gone, God-o-Meter is closing up shop till 2012--or at least 2010. Till then, get your faith and politics fix over at Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steve Waldman's blog. 7 ...

posted 4:32:33pm Nov. 19, 2008 | read full post »

On The Religious Left, Great Expectations
The first priorities for Barack Obama's administration will be the economy and a variety of foreign policy issues. But the burgeoning religious left, which worked so hard to get Obama elected, expects some movement on its issues, including a ...

posted 1:49:31pm Nov. 07, 2008 | read full post »

A Post-Election Chat with Ralph Reed
Amid today's talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive ...

posted 3:09:07pm Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »

More Innacurate Faith Storylines From the Media
God-o-Meter is struck by the number of faith-based storylines the news media appear to have gotten dead wrong this year. One was the line that Obama was poised to make big gains among white votes, especially evangelicals, who were undergoing a ...

posted 11:53:20am Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »

Democratic Faith Gains: Overblown?
For all the time, money, and effort that Democrats and their liberal allies spent trying to move the faithful into their column--particularly the white faithful--it seems that they have relatively little to show for it, despite Obama's decisive ...

posted 11:30:25am Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.