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Jewish World Review Jan. 12, 2004 / 18 Teves, 5764

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Dean and his amazing cyber Teflon coat | Very few presidential candidates could survive the pounding that Howard Dean has taken in recent weeks. As the front-runner in the Democratic nomination process, he has been the object of a virtual daily barrage of articles slamming him and questioning his judgment.

Some of the shots come from his political opponents, but many more come from the media. The political writers are instinctively eager to investigate a front-runner and are especially eager to stop Dean's momentum because they fear — rightly — that he can't beat George W. Bush. But other problems are self-created. Dean seems not to realize that everything he says is news copy and that it will be interpreted in the worst light possible.

But recent polls indicate that Dean has a narrow lead still in Iowa, holds a healthy edge in New Hampshire and has stayed in first place nationally among Democratic candidates. How has he done it?

Pause for a moment to consider the range of shots and self-inflicted wounds he has survived:

  • His refusal to release his records from his time as Vermont's governor.

  • His skiing after flunking his draft physical.

  • Saying that capturing Saddam Hussein did not make us safer.

  • Calling on Americans not to prejudge Osama bin Laden.

  • Seeking the vote of people with Confederate-flag decals.

  • Claiming his brother was killed while in the military; he wasn't.

And those are just in the past few weeks!

What is holding Dean aloft? I believe his political buoyancy reflects his mastery of the Internet as a political tool. He is being attacked in the media but is answering online.

The level of intimacy between the Dean campaign and his supporters is extraordinary, fed by a constant stream of e-mails explaining his positions, answering attacks and passing out the party line. While the news media hammer at him, his backers stay in line, nurtured and fed in a way that pre-Internet candidates could only dream about.

Dean has already proved the superiority of the Internet as a fundraising tool. By outraising all his opponents in each of the past three quarters, he has shown that campaign-finance reform is not some distant legislative vision but a practical reality. He has proved that it is easier, cheaper, faster and more profitable to raise clean money in small donations online than dirty money from PACs and wealthy donors in pursuit of special access.

But using the Internet to raise money to buy television commercials is like using an air force to ferry troops into combat. It can do that, but it can do so much more.

Dean is only beginning to educate us on the impact of the Internet. When the votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, I believe, he will achieve a level of turnout and an intensity of support that dwarfs that which can be stimulated by conventional media, mailing or phoning campaigns.

It is not easy to vote in the Iowa caucuses. One must go to a meeting, often at some distance from home, stay for one to two hours, vote on a range of procedural motions, learn the slate of delegates to support and stick around to vote for them. Dean's slight edge in Iowa will most likely translate into a big win because his supporters, cultivated through constant, interactive e-mail communication, will have the motivation to stick it out and make their votes felt on caucus night.

The only serious threat Dean faces if he wins Iowa is that after knocking out Rep. Richard Gephardt there, pushing Sen. John Kerry out of the race in New Hampshire and destroying Sen. John Edwards's bid by capturing South Carolina, that he will suddenly find himself in a three-way race against Sen. Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark. It is one thing for this leftist candidate to prevail against a nine-way field, but will his base extend far enough to prevail in a three-way fight? My bet is it will and that Dean will go on to win the nomination. The Internet provides a virally growing political base that can expand rapidly as Dean's momentum accelerates — all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.



© 2003, Dick Morris