October 1, 2006

The 50-State Strategy

The New York Times showcases Howard Dean and the 50-State Strategy. A bit of a read, but worth every word.

Now, at power lunches and private meetings, perplexed Washington Democrats, the kind of people who have lorded over the party apparatus for decades, find themselves pondering the same bewildering questions. What on earth can Howard Dean be thinking? Does he really care about winning in November, or is he after something else?
Both!! We can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.

[W]hat Dean and these women share is resentment, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, of the elite Washington Democrats who have always run the national party. … Dean came to Washington vowing to take power from the insiders and give it, instead, to ground-level activists. “That’s our loyalty to Dean,” Brazile says. “He gets it.”

I see this on the ground here in Nevada as well.

Before this midterm election-year began, but not long after Dean became party head, Emanuel and Schumer decided that if Dean wasn’t going to raise anywhere near as much money as his rivals at Republican headquarters, then he ought to at least give them whatever resources he could muster. They went to work on Dean, pleading with him to transfer as much as $10 million to the two committees to help them respond to the Republican TV barrage. … Dean categorically refused to ante up. Having opposed the very idea of targeting a small number of states and races, he wasn’t about to divert money from his long-term strategy — what he calls the “unsexy” work of rebuilding the party’s infrastructure — to pay for a bunch of TV ads in Ohio. He wanted to win the 2006 elections as much as anyone, Dean told them, and he intended to help where he could. But Democratic candidates and their campaign committees were doing just fine on fund-raising, and the party couldn’t continue giving in to the temptation to spend everything it had on every election cycle no matter how big a checkbook the Republicans were waving around.


Underneath this clash of field plans and alpha personalities lay a deeper philosophical divide over how you go about rebuilding a party — which was really a dispute about cause and effect. Did you expand the party by winning elections, or did you win elections by expanding the party? Most party insiders had long put their faith in elections first, arguing that the best way to broaden the base of the party was to win more races. …

Recent history, though, would seem to undercut this theory. In the 1990’s, the Democrats won two presidential elections behind a popular leader, and yet the party didn’t grow. In fact, Democrats lost ground at every level of government except the White House and cemented their position as the party of coastal states.
Definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
. . . Most analysts in both parties now believe that Democrats have better-than-even odds of winning at least the House. But if they don’t, rather than dissect the mechanical failures that cost them a few thousand votes here or there, Democrats might be forced to admit, at long last, that there is a structural flaw in their theory of party-building. Even a near miss, at a time of such overwhelming opportunity, would suggest that a national party may not, in fact, be able to win over the long term by fixating on a select group of industrial states while condemning entire regions of the country to what amounts to one-party rule. Which would mean that Howard Dean is right to replant his party’s flag in the towns and counties along America’s less-traveled highways, even if his plan isn’t perfect, and even if he isn’t the best messenger to carry it out. As another flawed visionary, the filmmaker Woody Allen, once put it, 80 percent of success is just showing up.
Have you shown up?

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