Dean's winNovember 15,2006
Howard Dean's 50-state strategy was supposed to be for the long term, laying a foundation for the growth of the Democratic Party all across the nation, not just for immediate future and not just in selected swing states.
The strategy has paid off much sooner than many Democrats had hoped, with Democratic upsets in all parts of the country.
Dean, the former Vermont governor who gained national stature as a presidential contender in 2004, brought the lessons he learned in his presidential campaign to his new job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His campaign grew from the grass roots, with the help of younger voters and the Internet, rather than from the conference rooms of the Democratic establishment. This year young people, with their Internet connectedness and their enthusiasm, showed they could be as important to the Democrats as labor unions.
Another plus for the Democrats was the mean-spirited anti-immigrant stance of House Republicans, who undid efforts by President Bush and the Senate to take a middle-of-the-road position on immigration. Hispanics went overwhelmingly Democratic.
Dean's strategy put him at loggerheads with the leaders in Congress who were guiding the campaigns of candidates for the House and Senate. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Chuck Schumer didn't want to see candidates in swing states suffer because money was being siphoned off to marginal states.
It may be that Dean's early organizational efforts all across the political landscape helped put in place teams that could win elections once the candidates were nominated and the election season drew near. Just a few years ago, there was speculation that the Democrats were in danger of becoming a narrowly regional party, with reliable strength only in the Northeast and some parts of the West Coast. Now there is speculation that the Republicans are in danger of becoming a regional party with reliable strength only in the Deep South.
It turns out that candidates from places that seemed locked in the Republican column lost big, places like Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, and New Hampshire. Now there are more Democratic governors than Republican, which belies the idea put forth as gospel by Bush's master strategist, Karl Rove, that the Republicans would soon have a permanent majority.
In fact, no majority is permanent. Claire McCaskill, the senator-elect from Missouri, had it right when she described the outcome in her state as typical of what happened to Middle America this year. A combination of issues — Iraq, corruption, fiscal irresponsibility, incompetence — motivated voters, not just in those liberal enclaves on the coasts, but in the states in between.
Now the Democrats will have their chance in a two-year period when they will likely be locked in mortal combat with the Bush administration. Missouri will be among the states that could swing back to the other side if voters lose faith in the potential of Democratic leadership.
It cannot be said, however, that Howard Dean did not do his best to give the Democrats a chance. He surprised a lot of people two years ago. He has helped pull off an even bigger surprise this year.
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