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