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March 14, 2006

Dean Getting Credit from the States

Howard Dean is winning over the folks at the state level with his strategy of strengthening the party in every state.  The Boston Globe's Rick Klein has an article that says that while the East Coast insiders are still grumbling at Dean's focus, former skeptics from the state partie have been won over by Dean's willingness to spend millions of dollars rebuilding Democratic organizations across the county. 

It's a high-risk strategy: Democrats have historically done this kind of grass-roots organizing only in the voter-rich big cities, and right before Election Day. Building the party in rural areas involves spending precious resources long before voters go to the polls.

But as Dean's mini-army of more than 150 DNC-paid operatives have fanned out across the country, many rural and conservative-leaning Democrats are nodding with approval.

''I've never really been a Dean guy," said John Wertheim, chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party. ''But I've really bought into his program. Is it risky? Sure. But I think it's a darn good investment."

In Albuquerque, four energetic young staff members -- trained by and drawing paychecks from the DNC -- have divvied up the map of New Mexico, a state that was more closely divided than Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.

From a cluttered warren of offices tucked into a strip mall, the DNC's new employees are building voter lists, organizing county-level Democratic caucuses, and installing precinct chairmen in rural portions of the state that have voted overwhelmingly Republican in national campaigns.

Go Dean go! 

Dean's strategy has its risks and that is what has provoted grumbling from some Democratic leaders.  The DNC raised 20% more in 2005 than it had in 2003, $61 million, but has just $6.9 million in the coffers while the RNC has $38.9 million.

Dean's goal is to catch up with the Republicans and the astounding grass-roots organizing that Karl Rove was able to bring out 1.2 million volunteers for Bush in 2004, which contributed to Bush's win. 

''We weren't everywhere, and we weren't in the rural areas," Dean said in an interview. ''You can't win the presidency unless you pay attention to the school board and the city council and the mayor's race."

So how about supporting him?  The DNC has a nice "democracy bonds" program that is like supporting public radio or TV - just some small amount a month, $20 or so, and it makes a big difference in the aggregate, allowing Dean to do what we've needed for quite a while. 

More from the Globe article on the flip.

Dean promised just such a program last year, helping him win the votes of state party officials who otherwise had their doubts. Now, the money that's flowing to the states has erased those doubts, virtually ensuring that he'll stay in his job no matter how much some in Washington tire of him.

''When we first met Howard Dean, we thought he'd be a nut," said Nick Casey, West Virginia's party chairman. ''But that's not the guy who's been delivering the goods, and he has been delivering to us."

Party chairmen across the nation tell similar stories. In Ohio, the five people being paid by the DNC have helped set up ''Victory Squads" -- teams of about 10 Democrats who are eager to knock on doors or set up lawn signs -- in 65 rural counties where Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry fared poorly in 2004.

Mississippi's Democratic Party has established an infrastructure in 10 counties where the organization had atrophied. The DNC has sent resources to hire five full-time workers -- up from just a single part-timer previously -- helping Democrats secure victories in five special legislative elections over the past year, party chairman Wayne Dowdy said.

State parties are generally used to this kind of attention from the DNC only in the six months or so before a presidential election, and then only if they're among the small group of states that are considered in play.

In 2004, as in other recent presidential years, the DNC under then-chairman Terry McAuliffe saved most of its cash to help the nominee with television ads and paid operatives.

But by the time teams from the national Democratic party showed up in swing states like New Mexico and Ohio in the summer, they found state parties that were too cash-strapped to have reliable voter lists. And many of the new arrivals had no clue about the states they were sent to.

In New Mexico, the Kerry campaign sent thousands of volunteers into urban areas. Kerry won big in the cities, as expected. But Democrats watched in vain as thousands of Bush volunteers streamed over the Texas border into eastern New Mexico. Bush won the state by nearly 6,000 votes. The pattern was repeated in other closely divided states, such as Ohio and Nevada.

Dean's efforts are aimed at making sure that doesn't happen again. Though he insists that the party will be able to raise plenty of money for the presidential race as 2008 draws closer, Dean said building the infrastructure is the party's top objective.

Support this strategy!

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 14, 2006 at 12:54 PM in Strategery | Permalink

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Comments

Thank you so much for these missives. They go a long way towards keeping my attention focused on what is important. Far from the "bread and circuses" we faithful Deaniacs are spending our times and meager resources on keeping abreast of issues that concern us: locally and nationally. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Bob Vermeers | Mar 15, 2006 6:12:36 AM

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