I scream, you scream, we all scream for a grassroots campaign strategy!
November 10, 2008 8:12 PM   Subscribe

I gather from Howard Dean's announcement today that he and the Obama People don't get along. I'm curious though how much Obama's win and the Congressional turnover are due to Dean's strategies and policies as head of the DNC.

When he was running for president, Dean was Mr. Grassroots. Does the "grassrootsyness" of the Obama campaign owe much to Dean? What actually changed in the DNC under Dean? (I'm interested in your incite and also in reading any articles you can point me to on the subject.)
posted by serazin to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about the issue, but I know that Dean was responsible for making sure the Democratic Party was actively campaigning in all 50 states -- which certainly made a difference for Obama (though it would have for any of the candidates)
posted by puckish at 8:27 PM on November 10, 2008

This isn't a direct answer, but two things might shed a bit of light on this:
1. Dean pledged to be a one-term DNC chair from the beginningof his tenure.
2. It has long been the case that when there is a Democratic President, he/she is the real head of the DNC and that the titular head will be one of his/her people.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:27 PM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not entirely sure why you'd assume from his announcement that there's any kind of bad blood between Dean and the Obama folks...Dean has always said he'd only serve one term; it's rare to serve much longer. Being the head of the DNC is a stressful job.

As for articles, here's a HuffPost piece with some decent quotes.
posted by ethorson at 8:29 PM on November 10, 2008

I don't believe there are any reports of bad blood, but someone was floating the idea that Dean wants to become HHS secretary.
posted by johngoren at 8:33 PM on November 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, sorry for spelling "insight" wrong, and I got the idea that Dean isn't liked because I read in the Washington Post today that Emanuel doesn't like him, but so far y'all are convincing me that his leaving doesn't necessarily have much to do with that. I'd love to hear more...
posted by serazin at 8:36 PM on November 10, 2008

Pretty sure they get along fine. First, the incoming Dem.President traditionally installs his or her own person in the DNC. Dean is not appropriate because a former governor and Presidential candidate shouldn't be a errand boy for a President. Dean still has a constituency and is a power in his own right. I think he's hoping for Secretary of HHS. Guy deserves to get an executive job.

Secondly, Obama owes Dean big. When Obama was running for senate in 2004, he was in an 8-person primary. Illinois politics is tilted towards the slate, the party regulars. Although Obama had a good relationship with the party in Chicago, he wasn't of it--an Irishman, an Irishwoman, or a candidate of a minority group who is from machine politics. Obama's not from Chicago originally and that means a lot on the South Side of Chicago.

Dean was running for President on a a fight Bush platform. He wanted to strenghten the party and highlighted candidates he thought worthy of help. Obama was one of them and I think Dean did a rally with Obama too. The money and name recognition did a lot. My dad tracked that race closely. Chicago-style he told me about how tremendous Obama was, but when I asked him if he was voting for him, he said no, he owed somebody else. Illinois Irish politics.

Finally, much of Obama's strategy is a precision-executed version of Dean's campaign.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 PM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Dean has been a pretty behind the scenes DNC chair. From what I've gathered he was always in the tank for the Clintons, always treated it as "their party" - that's not to say that there is bad blood between Dean and Obama, but you have to understand Dean has seen the party slip away from him.

The center of party power has shifted from the east coast to the mid-west. Even before Obama cinched the nomination, prominent Illinois democrats like Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel had, quite carefully, and behind the scenes been undoing the foundation of the party for relocation.

Dean ultimately wasn't able to guide the party in any meaningful way - that became the job of the mid-west faction.

Think about it: when did you even see Dean over the past year? He would pop up here and there, and a few other places, but in general he was pretty hands off.

As for the grassroots, once Dean let that out of the bottle anyone could co-opt it, and so much of that wasn't Dean, but people like Joe Trippi (who Dean fired in a knee-jerk move.) So yeah, in a way, his 50-state, compete everywhere strategy worked for Obama, but it by no means was passed down to him.
posted by wfrgms at 8:54 PM on November 10, 2008

A quick Google search turns up plenty of pieces like this and this and this. Those are all from the first page of search results for [obama howard dean strategy]. Google is your friend.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:08 PM on November 10, 2008

Hey, I'm Josh and I work for Governor Dean at the DNC.

In short, Governor Dean's decision to serve only one term had nothing to do with anyone not getting along. Honestly, he's been pretty open about serving only one term for a while now. I was a little amused by all the press it got today given how clear he's been.

As to how things have changed, there's a long list. The 50-State Strategy is a big one, in that it transformed how people look at the role of the national party across the country.

There's a list of other things: technology, fundraising, and the internal structure of the DNC itself. For example, there's now a unified national voter file with a standard interface called VoteBuilder (very important when you need to move organizers from, say, Michigan to Ohio -- that way they're using the same software they've used before, without a need to learn how to do everything all over again).

I'll leave the analysis to everyone else...
posted by joshmcconaha at 9:10 PM on November 10, 2008 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Josh! I'd love to hear more specifics if you have time. How has the DNC structure changed? Fundraising? Tell me more!
posted by serazin at 9:13 PM on November 10, 2008

Best answer: So I'm totally copying and pasting this, which I hope isn't some AskMeFi sin, but I think it's the best possible way to give you more detail. This was assembled just this past week by our Communications team, but it almost perfectly answers your question...

When Governor Dean became Chairman in February 2005, our Party had come through a dismal election cycle. We had just lost a national election to an incumbent president whose approval rating hovered at or below 50 percent. Republicans had gained 3 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate, leading to speculation about the possibility of a "permanent Republican majority."

Governor Dean's first step was to assess our Party's strengths and weaknesses and put in place a strategy to address those issues. Dean developed a business plan to rebuild the Democratic Party, modernize our operations and expand the electoral map. The emphasis was on lessons learned and best practices, and it included the following key components:

· Rebuild the Infrastructure of the Party - After assessing the needs on the ground, we hired full-time permanent staff in all 50 states, trained staff and activists, introduced new measures of accountability, and developed a unified technology platform. Over the past four years we've held 140 trainings for candidates, campaign staff, organizers, Party leaders and activists in all 50 states.

· Upgrade and Improve the Party's Technology/Modernize the Way We Do Grassroots Organizing - Over the past four years the DNC has made significant investments in technology, creating a truly national voter file, improved micro-targeting models and developed 21st century campaign tools that merged traditional organizing with new technology.

· Diversify the Donor Base - Shifting the emphasis of Party fundraising to include both small donors and large donors, the DNC brought in more than 1.1 million new donors and raised more than $330 million from '05 - '08. The average contribution over the last three years was $63.88.

· Amplify Democratic Message and Improved Outreach - Created a national communications infrastructure to amplify the Democratic message and reach out to groups we haven't always talked to and expand the map to regions where Democrats have not traditionally been competitive - including the South and the West.

· Professionalize Voter Protection Efforts - Created a year-round national, state and local effort to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote.
posted by joshmcconaha at 9:23 PM on November 10, 2008 [11 favorites]

Totally an outsider, as far as that goes, but I never had any sense that Dean and "the Obama people" had issues and think he did a tremendous job. Frankly, there was a period when certain people were not being altogether helpful on the party unity front, and it looked like - from his public schedule and known calls not from any inside scoop - Dean was doing all he could to get the party on track as a party so the Democrats could stop wasting time and get on with the job of defeating the Republicans.

It had crossed my mind, while watching a recent speech of his, that all he has done for his party after his defeat is a sterling example of how to move on after losing. Seems like he had a good drink or a good cry or whatever, and then went right back to work. Go Dean!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:31 PM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I gather this is the money quote from 2006 in the WaPo today:

"Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who is leading the party's effort to regain majority status in the House, stormed out of Dean's office several days ago leaving a trail of expletives, according to Democrats familiar with the session."

More details in the 2006 article.

Speaking generally without reference to today's news, here's why it makes sense that Emanuel wouldn't like Dean: Dean's "let's build up from the grassroots" long-term strategy conflicts pretty directly with Emanuel's approach, which for years has been to push grassroots-favored progressive/anti-war candidates aside during primaries by pumping money and support into center-right Democrats he thought had a better chance of winning. Emanuel often did this in districts where it looked like the progressive candidate had a decent chance of gaining the seat - thus basically undercutting the left wing of his party in places where it had the best chance. The most blatant case was the campaign to replace the sex-scandalled Mark Foley by Dan Lutrin, a Florida progressive who saw his funding dry up after Emanuel decided that a rich Republican who switched parties just before the primary was a better choice. There were other similar cases that angered progressives who might have seen Dean as on their side; Down With Tyranny has a Rahm Emanuel category and has been tracking this for a long time.
posted by mediareport at 9:31 PM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

yeah, I see that "DLC" isn't a search-find on this page yet so let me throw that in here, echoing mediareport above since this Emanuel guy apparently has DLC written all over him.

I don't know what Dean is or isn't, but at any rate if he isn't heading HHS next year I'm going to be MIGHTY pissed at Obama, coming out of the gate as it were.
posted by troy at 9:45 PM on November 10, 2008

I don't know about the insider stuff but I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say Dean and his 50 state strategy saved the democratic party- by refusing to apologize for being progressive, and refusing to concede the alleged "red states."

Whatever he does next, I look forward to supporting him. I did read on 538.com that a Vermont senate seat might be opening up in 2010.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:53 PM on November 10, 2008

Yeah, there's nothing surprising in his quitting, if you've been paying attention to D politics for a while. There are, however, certain concern trolls in the media who are desperate for anything negative to say about the Democrats right now, so keep that in mind going forward.

The position really is one that nominally defers to the party head, meaning the President when the party holds the White House. Dean's predecessor was Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton valet good primarily at fundraising, and both parties often give the slot to a behind-the-scenes money man. In some ways it was a step down for a former Governor and Presidential candidate.

Emanuel was opposed to Dean for pretty overt strategic differences. I think Dean was proven correct in large part by the success of the party the last two cycles, and he goes out with an enhanced reputation. When he -- unusually -- mounted a public campaign for the post of DNC Chair, some tried to make him out as a has-been or never-was. Now he's well-known to every state party head and many more below them.

And the Obama campaign explicitly built on the Dean legacy in terms of creating a social movement online and empowering it to work on behalf of the candidate (although it was easily meshed with Obama's own Saul Alinsky philosophy regarding empowerment). By the time of the late primaries, Obama's operation was also explicitly using the 50-state-strategy as a template. (In the end they did make some strategic sacrifices, e.g. pulling out of Wisconsin the last two weeks before the election; enabling them to make "50-state" moves like symbolically faking out McCain on Arizona, while he spent money in mostly-safe Pennsylvania.) That they made inroads into once-reliably-red stats like North Carolina and Virginia is nothing short of fantastic.

Dean has earned the respect of even Democrats like Emanuel. Since the latter is profane and abusive in frequent circumstances I wouldn't take one meeting two years ago as the definitive take on their relationship.
posted by dhartung at 11:45 PM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Dean has earned the respect of even Democrats like Emanuel. Since the latter is profane and abusive in frequent circumstances I wouldn't take one meeting two years ago as the definitive take on their relationship.

Absolutely right-- that's Emanuel's reputation, and, for whatever it's worth, Entourage's manic Ari Gold character is based on Rahm Emanuel's younger brother.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:54 AM on November 11, 2008

"[I]n the interest of full disclosure, I've known Rahm for a long time, and he's yelled at me for no good reason on many occasions. This, of course, is the way he expresses affection." — Jeffrey Goldberg
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:13 AM on November 11, 2008

From this book's chapter by Robert Boatright on fundraising:
An enduring legacy of the 2004 campaign was the maturation of internet campaigning. Although Sen. John McCain raised $2.2 million for his campaign online in a single week during 2000, the 2004 campaign featured far more sophisticated online fundraising techniques. Those techniques, mostly pioneered by the Howard Dean presidential campaign, have served as a template for others. Barack Obama raised $10.3 million in the second quarter of 2007 through Internet fundraising.
That book also has some other information about how Dean pioneered social networks, meetups, etc. It also has some information about Dean & Emanuel clashing over the 50 state strategy if you'd like me to pull that up for you.
posted by lilac girl at 7:01 AM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: Great insights folks. Thanks for helping me understand this.
posted by serazin at 9:44 AM on November 11, 2008

Best answer: A skeptical look from today's NYT.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2008

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