Howard Dean: U.S. presidential election, 2004

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The following pertains to Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. presidential election, 2004.

Candidate Dean

On May 31, 2002, Dean declared himself a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2004 U.S. presidential election cycle. He began his bid as a "long shot" candidate with few volunteers and little money. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, noted in his memoir of the campaign, titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, that as late as January 2003 "the Dean campaign was still squirrelled away in a cramped, 1,000-square-foot second-story office above the dark Vermont Pub and Brewery. There were six people - seven if you counted the governor - working for Dean for America, most of whom had been longtime aides in the governor's office. ... By January 2003, one year before the Iowa primary, while the other campaigns had built sophisticated political machines, raised war chests of millions of dollars, and compiled computerized lists of potential supporters in key states, the Dean campaign had none of these things, had raised only $315,000, and had spent two-thirds of it just remaining on life support. .... There was a computer in the Dean headquarters - and a relative of the governor's had set up an early web site - but it wasn't even turned on. They had gathered about 9,000 names of 'Friends of Howard,' people who had, at one time or another, told the governor that they might be interested in helping if he ever decided to seek higher office. ... But instead instead of being readily accessible for sorting on a computer database, these names, along with names of thousands of other potential supporters, were scrawled on business cards, contact sheets, and scraps of paper and stuffed in a few shoeboxes - not even one shoebox for each state. Dean was getting very little media coverage in those cold, dark Vermont days, other than those stories about how little chance he had. The first Dean stories all had headlines like 'The Invisible Man' and 'The Darkest Horse.' ... In most polls, his 'support' was less than the margin of error of the poll: 2 percent here, 1 percent there. When I arrived in January, Dean had been campaigning in Iowa by himself for months, and yet he was tied there with the Rev. Al Sharpton at 2 percent, badly trailing the 'serious candidates': Gephardt, Lieberman, Kerry, and Edwards" (pp. 77-79).

As the year progressed, however, Trippi's unconventional embrace of the Internet propelled Dean's candidacy forward. By autumn of 2003, he had become the apparent frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, outpacing his rivals in fundraising (mainly from individual contributions on his website) and performing strongly in most polls.

Dean began his campaign by emphasizing health care and fiscal responsibility. However, his opposition to the U.S. plan to invade Iraq (and his forceful criticism of Democrats in Congress who voted to authorize the use of force) quickly eclipsed other issues, resonating with disillusioned Democrats and using momentum from the burgeoning anti-war movement to build an impressive online campaign. Early on in the campaign, Dean repeatedly contrasted his positions with those of other Democratic candidates by claiming that he came from "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party" (implying that the other candidates' positions barely differed from those of their Republican opposition). The phrase was first used by the late Senator Paul Wellstone.

The Dean campaign was also different in structure and style from traditional campaigns. "At the headquarters of most political campaigns," observed New York Times reporter Samantha Shapiro, "there's a familiar organizational structure: a group of junior employees carrying out a plan devised by a bunch of senior advisers. The Dean headquarters feels different: a thin veneer of Official Adults barely hovers above a 24-hour hive of intense, mostly youthful devotion. When the adults leave, usually around 10 p.m., the aisles between cubicles are still cluttered with scooters and dogs; when they return in the morning, balancing just-microwaved cinnamon buns and coffee, they climb over pale legs poking out from beneath their desks and shoo sleeping volunteers off their office couches. ... There are now 900 unofficial Dean groups. Some of the activities undertaken on behalf of Dean qualify as recognizable politics: people hand out fliers at farmer's markets or attend local Democratic Party meetings. Others take steps of their own invention: they cover their pajamas with stickers that say 'Howard Dean Has a Posse' and wear them to an art opening, or they organize a squadron to do 'Yoga for Dean.' They compose original songs in honor of Dean. (About two dozen people have done that; another man wrote a set of 23 limericks.) They marry each other wearing Dean paraphernalia. Overweight supporters create Web pages documenting, in daily dispatches, their efforts to lose 100 pounds in time for Dean's election. One woman, Kelly Jacobs of Hernando, Miss., took it upon herself to travel around the Memphis area for 15 weeks, standing on a single street corner for a week at a time, to promote Dean. I saw a middle-aged man at a garden party in New Hampshire preface a question to Dean by saying he was associated with Howards for Howard. Dean nodded, as if the man had said he was with the AARP." [1]

Much discussion and criticism focused on Dean's perceived electability. Critics (including fellow candidate Joseph Lieberman and the centrist Democratic Leadership Council) claimed that Dean's positions appeared too liberal and his rhetoric too strident to appeal to moderate voters in the general election. Dean and his supporters responded by arguing that the Democrats will never win with "Bush light," and that the party needed a candidate who would stand up to George W. Bush and energize the Democratic base. (Some pundits have cited national polls showing a unusually polarized electorate going into 2004, suggesting that voter turnout will be particularly important.)

From dark horse to front-runner

Although the Dean campaign struggled at the beginning, it began to look like a possible winner, as its success at rapidly building a national network of donors and volunteers was followed by impressive performance in opinion polls. Greater visibility meant sharpened scrutiny. The media began to more closely scrutinize Dean's record as governor of Vermont, which appeared more moderate than his new national profile: "Dean's emerging national reputation as a liberal tribune [...] obscures the centrist course he steered during his tenure as governor of Vermont" (Washington Post, Aug. 3 2003). As Dean told "I don't mind being characterized as 'liberal'—I just don't happen to think it's true."

Some, most notably fellow candidate Dennis Kucinich, attacked Dean from the left, challenging his credentials as an anti-war candidate due to his refusal to support the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and cuts to the Pentagon budget. Kucinich further criticized Dean for his failure to support a universal single-payer health care system (which Dean rejected as politically impossible).

Dean received the endorsement of Al Gore, former United States Vice-President and 2000 presidential candidate, on December 9, 2003. In the following weeks Dean was endorsed by former U.S. senators Bill Bradley and Carol Moseley Braun, unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidates from the 2000 and 2004 primaries, respectively.

Defeat in Iowa

On January 19, 2004, Dean's campaign suffered a blow when a last-minute surge by rival John Kerry led to an embarrassing defeat for Dean in the Iowa caucuses, representing the first votes cast in primary season. Dean had been a strong contender for weeks in advance in that state, battling with Dick Gephardt for first place in the polls. To the surprise of the Dean and Gephardt campaigns, Dean finished third in Iowa behind John Kerry and John Edwards. (Gephardt finished fourth.)

At a post-caucus rally in Iowa, Dean gave an animated speech intended to cheer up those in attendance. However, many in the television audience criticized the speech as loud, peculiar, and unpresidential. [2] [3] In particular, this quote from the speech was aired repeatedly in the days following the caucus:

"Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin, we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York...And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeeeaah!!!"

Dean conceded that the speech did not project the best image, jokingly referring to it as a "crazy, red-faced rant" on The Late Show with David Letterman. In an interview later that week with Diane Sawyer, he said he was "a little sheepish, ... but I'm not apologetic". [4] Sawyer and many others in the national broadcast news media later expressed some regret about overplaying the story, especially after comparing the broadcast feed of the speech (which failed to capture the crowd noise because Dean used a noise-cancelling microphone) to recordings from within the crowd. From the latter recordings, it becomes clear that Dean was struggling to be heard. [5]

Prior to his Iowa defeat, Dean campaign's fundraising successes and seemingly strong showing in opinion polls had led many pundits to declare him the frontrunner in the Democratic primary. "Howard Dean had the best-funded, best-publicized bid to be the Democratic nominee; he was so widely understood to be in the lead that the inevitability of his victory was a broad topic of discussion," observed Internet consultant and writer Clay Shirky, who like many other people was surprised when the Dean campaign failed to win in the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries. [6] After the loss, some people compared the Dean campaign to the failed dot-com investors' bubble of the late 1990s. Shirky wondered if the campaign's use of the Internet had actually hurt the campaign, wonder if "Dean has accidentally created a movement (where what counts is believing) instead of a campaign (where what counts is voting)." [7] In a subsequent essay, he argued that the Dean campaign's seeming lead was actually a "mirage" from the beginning: "We talked ourselves, but not the voters, into believing," he wrote. "And I think the way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived. ... Dean's campaign was never actually successful. It did many of the things successful campaigns do, of course -- got press and raised money and excited people and even got potential voters to aver to campaign workers and pollsters that they would vote for him when the time came. When the time came, however, they didn't. The campaign never succeeded at making Howard Dean the first choice of any group of voters he faced." [8] A senior Dean campaign aide reached similar conclusions: "Even though we looked like an 800-pound gorilla, we were still growing up. We were like the big lanky teenager that looked like a grown man." [9]

Why did many people think otherwise? According to journalism professor Jay Rosen, "the way campaign coverage was organized helped inflate and sustain a news bubble. ... The press bubble was blown around the figure, 'front runner in Iowa and New Hampshire,' a narrative device activated by Dean's poll numbers and bank account." [10]

On January 27, Dean again suffered a defeat, finishing second to Kerry in the New Hampshire primary. As late as one week before the first votes were cast in Iowa's caucuses, Dean had enjoyed a 30% lead in New Hampshire; accordingly, this loss represented another major setback to his campaign.

Iowa and New Hampshire were only the first in a string of embarrassing losses for the Dean campaign, culminating in a disappointing third place showing in the Wisconsin primary on February 17, 2004. The next day, Dean announced that his candidacy had "come to an end," though he continued to urge people to vote for him, and he later won the Vermont primaries on Super Tuesday, March 2, 2004.

While his presidential bid ultimately ended in failure, his supporters felt it was not a lost cause, serving to frame the White House race by tapping in to voters' concerns about the war in Iraq, in the process energizing Democrats and sharpening criticism of incumbent George W. Bush. Many political pundits affirm that Dean's contribution was "cathartic" for the party.

Campaign timeline

  • May 31, 2002: Announced intent to run in 2004 presidential election
  • March, 2003: - Campaign signed deal with to integrate Meetup functionality directly into the main page of the campaign website.
  • June 23, 2003: Formally announced candidacy for President in 2004.
  • November 8, 2003: Announces intention to forgo federal campaign financing (and hence primary spending limit), following online vote of supporters
  • December 9, 2003: Receives endorsement from former Vice President Al Gore
  • January 6, 2004: Receives endorsement from Bill Bradley, former US senator and Gore's rival for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2000.
  • January 15, 2004: Carol Moseley Braun drops out of the race and announces her support for Dean, saying that "Governor Dean is the candidate best-equipped to bring Americans together, to renew our country, and restore our privacy, our liberty and our economic security."
  • January 28, 2004: Appoints Roy Neel as CEO of his campaign; campaign manager Joe Trippi leaves after being offered another position.
  • February 18, 2004: Dean ends his campaign for president after coming in a distant third place in the Wisconsin primary on February 17, 2004.
  • March 2, 2004: Dean wins a primary in his home state of Vermont.
  • March 18, 2004: Dean launches Democracy for America, an advocacy group dedicated to returning political power to the community level.
  • March 25, 2004: Dean endorses John Kerry.


In the "invisible primary" of raising campaign dollars, Howard Dean led the Democratic pack in the early stages of the 2004 campaign. Among the candidates, he ranked first in total raised ($25.4 million as of September 30, 2003) and first in cash-on-hand ($12.4 million). However, even this performance paled to next to that of George W. Bush, who by that date had raised $84.6 million for a primary campaign in which he had no real challenger.

Many commented on the Dean campaign's unprecedented success with fund-raising over the Internet. While presidential campaigns have traditionally obtained finance by tapping wealthy, established political donors, Dean's funds came largely in small donations over the Internet; the average overall donation size was just under $80. This method of fundraising for the campaign offers several important advantages. First, next to virtually any other method of fundraising (events, telemarketing, direct mail), raising money on the Internet costs virtually nothing, netting a greater amount. Second, because donors on average contribute far less than the legal limit ($2,000 per individual), the campaign can continue to resolicit them throughout the election season - which importantly improves mindshare: the more times people contribute, the more investment they feel they have ... and not just financially.

In November 2003, after a much-publicized online vote among his followers, Dean became the first Democrat to forgo federal matching funds (and the spending limits that go with them) since the system became established in 1974. (John Kerry has since followed his lead.) In addition to state-by-state spending limits for the primaries, the system limits a candidate to spending only $44.6 million until the Democratic National Convention in July, which sum would almost certainly run out soon after the early primary season. (George W. Bush declined federal matching funds in 2000 and has done so again for the 2004 campaign.)

In a sign that the Dean campaign was starting to think beyond the primaries, they began in late 2003 to speak of a "$100 revolution" in which 2 million Americans would give $100 in order to compete with Bush.

Campaign personnel

Several former Dean staffers have gone on to establish their own consulting firm, Blue State Digital, LLC.

The Dean campaign also used some software provided by Convio, Inc.

Internet Innovations

The Howard Dean campaign was notable for its innovative uses of the Internet, including the first widespread use of blogging to promote a political candidate. In addition to helping spread the campaign's message, the Internet served as a system through which the campaign received continuous advice from Dean supporters. "One of the simple things was we had signs up on our site," Trippi says. "You know, Iowans for - 'Iowa for Dean,' "Another New Hampshire voter for Dean'--that people could download. We put up all 50 states. And the first mention on the blog was, 'Hey, you forgot Puerto Rico. You screwed up.' And we immediately, you know, realized that, yeah, Puerto Rico votes for Democratic nominations, so we put up a 'Puerto Rico for Dean' sign within a minute or two and got a protest from a guy in London saying that he was an American abroad who was going to vote in the presidential and we didn't have an 'Americans abroad for Dean' sign. So we put that up immediately, and the thank-you came from Spain. All this happened in a 10-minute part of time that was an amazing exchange between us and our supporters, and they saw the mistakes we made and we plugged them." [11]

The Dean campaign used the Internet to organize "Howard Dean Meetup Days," using the website through which Dean supporters could enter their zip codes and arrange a time and place to meet personally with other Dean supporters in their area and develop plans to support their candidate. Following Dean's departure from the race, the "Dean meetup days" became the model for similarly-organized "National Democratic Party Meetup Days." [12]

Dean supporters even developed their own software, including Get Local, a program that let supporters organize local events independent of the campaign; DeanLink, a version of Friendster for the Dean campaign; and DeanSpace, a software package that allowed the many disparate, unofficial Dean Web sites to communicate directly with one another and also with the campaign. The campaign also used an innovative approach to keeping anti-Dean flames off Dean blogs, called "Troll Goal": "Whenever a troll flames a Dean blog, a Dean booster donates more money," explained Wall Street Journal reporter Lee Gomes. "The troll realizes he is only helping the candidate, and stops." [13]

At the peak of the campaign, Dean for America employed three full-time programmers, plus a database team and more than 100 volunteers working on open source Dean-related software projects. The software, explained the New York Times, "allows any Dean Web site to reprint another's stories, images and campaign feed automatically, as if they have a collective consciousness. It also will provide a 'dashboard' for the people in Burlington, where the campaign can track patterns on its unofficial sites and observe which content is most popular." [14] After the campaign ended, some of the programmers involved in developing software for Dean went on to develop CivicSpace Labs, which has developed an open source software package intended to serve as a powerful and easy-to-use grassroots organizing toolkit for people wanting to organize campaigns and connect with like-minded activists. [15]

In June 2003, the MoveOn web site held what it called "the first online primary of the modern age," and Dean won a plurality of 44 percent, with 139,360 votes. [16] Although the "online primary" was not a real election in the conventional sense, it prompted MoveOn to put its considerable fundraising power at the service of the Dean campaign.

As the Washington Post noted, "experts also credit his campaign with developing savvy online fundraisers - essentially online telethons that posted their goals alongside urgent deadlines and icons counting the donations as they came in. It was a simple idea, employed by any number of public TV stations. But it was a campaign innovation, allowing Dean to turn otherwise mundane fundraising pitches into a high-tech call to arms. Experts said it was a significant improvement from how candidates had previously asked for money online - usually, by simply urging supporters to send a check sometime before the next election." [17]

The Dean campaign's success at Internet fundraising and grassroots organizing even impressed Larry Purpuro, who organized the Republican Party's year 2000 online initiative, the e.GOP Project. Although Republicans out-hustled Democrats online in the 2000 election cycle, Purpuro said, the Dean campaign showed that the tide had shifted and Democrats were "ahead in the game. ... Left of center organizations are showing more energy, innovation and more strength in numbers." Purpuro cited MoveOn, Emily's List and gay rights groups as examples. [18]

Disinformation on Dean

The Drudge Report

Following Dean's loss in Iowa, media outlets quickly turned on Dean, repeatedly broadcasting an unflattering video clip from his concession speech in which Dean appears to be irrational and screaming. What the video clip failed to capture was that Dean was speaking to a raucus crowd of supporters and that he needed to shout simply to be heard.

Matt Drudge contributed to this characterization of Howard Dean as mentally unstable shortly after the Iowa Democratic caucuses when he published pictures of Governor Dean with the headline "Dean Goes Nuts." He also provided an audio clip of Dean's concession speech and characterized a cry Dean made during the speech as a lunatic howling at the moon with the text "'YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!'"[19]

Drudge also attempted to stigmatize Dr. Dean as mentally ill with a little help from a column by Byron York in the conservative National Review magazine. York's opinion piece reprints a J.D. Heyman interview from People magazine where Dean talks about his experiences with anxiety attacks:

"What were those like?"
"It was not a big deal," Dean responded. "I was just anxious and I didn't know why."
"So it was a paralyzing -- "
"No, not a bit," Dean answered. "I didn't miss a day of work. I didn't worry about what was going to happen. I just wasn't sure what was going on and then I traced it to my brother [who had disappeared in Laos]."
"Through counseling?" Heyman asked.
"Yeah," Dean said.
"Was it just talking it through or were you ever medicated?"
"No. It was just anxiety." [20]

PAC Attack

In the run up to the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, a political action committee named the Club for Growth ran advertisements attacking Howard Dean's desire to roll back the tax cuts of George Walker Bush. In the advertisement, an announcer asks an elderly couple, 'What do you think of Howard Dean's plans to raise taxes on families by $1,900 a year?'

The man responds: 'What do I think? Well, I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ...,' and the woman continues, '... body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs.'"[21] The Club for Growth Web Site also features a banner inviting visitors to use the Dean Tax Calculator to find out how much money Howard Dean "wants to steal" from them. [22]

The advertisements would be illegal under McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform if the Club for Growth funded them with "soft money," but are legal because Club for Growth funded them from its political action committee. The cost of the advertisements was estimated to be around $75,000. [23]


  • On Saturday, Dec. 27, the Concord Monitor in Concord, NH, noted: "Dean recently mailed brochures to homes in New Hampshire with a headline stating that Dean is the only candidate who 'opposed the war from the start.'" This is a false statement.
Dennis Kucinich led the effort against the war in the House of Representatives, is the only candidate who voted against the war, is the only candidate who consistently opposed the war from the beginning and continues to oppose it now, and is the only candidate with an exit strategy. His "Prayer for America" speech against the buildup to war in February 2002 catalyzed this campaign. Rev. Al Sharpton and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun also opposed the war.

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Note: A version of this article appears on the Wikipedia.