Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Reports from the Dean Campaign

Here are a couple of interesting looks at the Dean campaign. First, here’s an inside look from a volunteer in the Burlington, VT headquarters reported by Stef, the wife of Faithful Blog Mentor NTodd:

Chaos reigns, but not in an unruly way. The entire place has the energy of a startup company in the 1990s: utterly crazed, but eager and determinedly focused. There are people working literally around the clock, every day of the week. You may be locked in the hallway, but Dean HQ is always open!

And here is a report from Michael McCord on a Dean campaign rally in Rochester, NH, as reported in Democratic Underground:

A year ago the notion of a “Dean Juggernaut” would have been fantasy. Even six months ago, the concept was a punch line in the making but today with the New Hampshire primary fast approaching, it’s a sobering – no make that horrifying – fact for the rivals of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “Every day I wake up sick,” a staffer from a rival campaign responded when asked about Dean. “They (the Dean campaign) act like it’s Mardi Gras every day and we’re just dressing for a funeral.” The candidate who couldn’t afford a pollster at the start of his campaign is now at the top of primary opinion polls.

All this frontrunner, opinion chatter is essentially meaningless today. On the first-in-the-solar-system primary planet, watching so-called frontrunners fall on their face is quadrennial pastime. On a cool autumn evening late last week, I attended a Howard Dean revival session at the Rochester Opera House. Dean, he of the East Hampton (N.Y.) Deans, a former banker, ski bum, practicing MD, and center-of-the-road governor is by far the most unlikely rise to prominence by a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Rochester, the largest city in New Hampshire’s seacoast region, has a blue-collar personality and has watched its manufacturing base slowly evaporate over the past decade (the largest employer in Rochester is the City of Rochester itself). Here is a jobless recovery case study where the official unemployment rate is lower than the national average but underemployment is the rage.

It’s a good place to consider Dean’s curious populist magnetism and his appearance was a rollicking affair. The place was mostly filled with more than 375 Dean fans and potential supporters who waited patiently as Dean ran almost an hour late from a previous campaign stop. The patience of his audience was one thing – the fact that they were there at all on a Friday night in November (the night life in southeastern New Hampshire is actually quite lively) speaks volumes about his current star quality.

At this and other rallies I’ve witnessed, Dean’s support cuts across class and cultural lines and includes the young and old, independents who voted for John McCain, liberals who supported Al Gore and Bill Bradley, environmentalists, stray Republicans, blue collar workers and professionals of all stripes. And the collective mood is like a trip to a political Disneyland where it’s a small world after all and all things are possible.

In both of these stories, the overriding image is one of high-powered optimism and enthusiasm for a candidate who touches a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. And that may be Dean’s biggest strength – he can’t be pigeonholed by anyone, and regardless of what Karl Rove may think, he will be a very hard target to hit.