Let’s Talk About Howard Dean


(Yep, that’s me on the left. With a lot more hair and beardless.)

“The Scream Heard ‘Round The World.” In 2004 during the Democratic Presidential Primaries, Gov. Howard Dean notified campaign supporters after a defeat in Iowa that he would be going to the rest of the primary states and take back the White House, which led to a “BYAAH” scream which was amplified and repeated over FOX News, the Daily Show, and every other news or “news” source one could imagine. Many who were only giving a cursory glance to the campaign would believe this scream tanked Dean’s campaign- the reality is sadly more boring, but we will explore it anyway.

As Clay Shirky discusses in his article, Iowa and New Hampshire tanked Dean’s campaign before the scream ever did. Iowa and New Hampshire are first two states that have Democratic contests- the Iowa caucus, which is a community-based exercise where groups of people get together and vote in a giant room after hearing from representatives from each of the campaigns. The New Hampshire primary, on the other hand, is a more traditional ballot-based voting system. Unfortunately for Dean, “the voters didn’t like him.” This is the reason Shirky gives for why Dean lost, and I would agree with that assessment. Trippi does show that the Dean campaign did offer a flavor for the grassroots online campaigning that Barack Obama would later use, “By the end of January 2004, as the primaries commenced, Dean had raised more than $41 million, much of it online; 318,884 citizens had contributed to the Dean campaign. Overall, 61 percent of Dean’s financial resources came from those giving $200 or less,” but the differences between the Obama campaign and the Dean campaign were in the planning and the likeability factor.

Whereas the Dean campaign started out of a small office and had to play massive amounts of catch-up to get to the levels that Kerry, Edwards, and Lieberman were enjoying, the Barack Obama campaign’s rise was planned and executed by David Plouffe, the political wizard who was legendary for his frugality and ingenuity with the trials and tribulations of a campaign. They knew Iowa would be the game changer and spent every waking second there, because they realized that it was Iowa or bust, given the Clinton’s successes in New Hampshire. With their strategy, they won Iowa and kept New Hampshire within three points.

Going back to Shirky’s likeability argument, Dean never resonated with the American people or had the catchy message of hope and change that Obama’s campaign used to great success. People were awed by Obama’s rhetorical ability and flocked to him, beginning at the 2004 DNC speech but to a much greater element during the 08 campaign. Youth who had before been unaffected by politics were motivated and energized to work for a candidate promising a complete overhaul from the unsuccessful Bush years.

So, what do you think the successes were with the Dean campaign and their failures? Do you agree with Shirky that the campaign ended in Iowa and New Hampshire? What lessons did the Obama campaign learn from Dean’s successes and failures?

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2 Responses to Let’s Talk About Howard Dean

  1. andgoldberg says:

    I completely agree with your assessment of Dean’s political campaign failure. However, I think it is important to point out that Barack Obama’s campaign is analyzed from the perspective of Democrat vs. Republican parties while Dean’s campaign is simply to play the role of the Democratic party candidate. Dean needed a much more well planned out campaign in which he analyzed states deeper than simply website users. The issue is in interpreting campaign statistics online. As companies begin to explore the complex social media networks, they begin to figure out the most effective way to campaign for political office in the digital world. WIth the amount of tools available, political candidates can never complain about a lack of mediums to broadcast on.

  2. John D'Adamo says:

    I definitely agree with what you are saying, in terms of the difference between a primary and general election- one thing to keep in mind is that you can absolutely analyze Dean and Obama through the lens of just the primary election alone, especially given how intense the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries was. That was definitely my primary focus here (through discussing the Clinton/Edwards/Obama battle) but I should’ve made that clearer. Thanks for your response!

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