- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

BURLINGTON, Vt. — At the start of this year, Howard Dean was dismissed even by his own Democratic Party as a hopelessly leftward liberal with no chance of attracting voters outside his small Northeastern state.

He had barely $150,000 in the bank and four staffers — two of whom were responsible for the “national” campaign and divided the country at the Mississippi River.

Today, with his supporters outnumbering the population of his entire state and having raised more than $25 million, Mr. Dean has declined federal campaign funds because it would limit him to raising only $45 million for the primary.

Polls show him surging. And just last week, Mr. Dean’s insurgent outsider campaign was deemed mainstream Democratic when former Vice President Al Gore surprised many Democrats by endorsing him.

“This is a campaign no one has ever seen before,” said campaign manager Joe Trippi, a statement even his rivals don’t dispute. “It’s why other campaigns are having such a hard time competing with us, and we believe it’s why George Bush will have such a tough time.”

With an audacity that was his trademark in state politics here, Mr. Dean has tapped into deep discontent among those opposed to President Bush and his policies, especially the war in Iraq.

However, the key to the runaway campaign is the Internet, which has revolutionized the way the candidate reaches new voters and supporters reach the candidate.

“He’s steamrolling everyone,” said Andrew Smith, who conducts polling at the University of New Hampshire and has closely watched Mr. Dean’s use of the Internet. “It was a stroke of genius.”

By attracting supporters online, the campaign automatically creates a massive mailing list of hundreds of thousands of supporters who can be reached in an instant with the click of a button.

It also allows the campaign to ask supporters frequently for comment on decisions, such as the issues that need to be addressed in the race. Not only does this polling give supporters a feeling of ownership over the campaign, it also arrives at some pretty smart ideas, campaign officials said.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Internet strategy is how it allows Mr. Dean to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of days by simply setting up an online fund-raising challenge for supporters to meet.

“They’ve got an ATM machine out there,” Mr. Smith said. “and as money is being raised over the Internet, Dean isn’t stuck at some fund-raising dinner. He’s out finding new supporters or talking to voters.”

On a recent Saturday morning, a tall, shaggy-haired guy manned the front office of Mr. Dean’s headquarters, which now takes up the entire floor of a large building in an office park in Burlington. In constant motion, he answered the phones, grabbed incoming faxes, patched phone calls to other staffers and unpacked a new printer.

Many of those attracted to the Dean campaign are young, antiwar computer techies.

Bob Kunst, a Florida Democrat, worries that Mr. Dean’s support doesn’t exist outside the pseudo-hippie antiwar crowd.

“Dean scares us,” said Mr. Kunst, who wants New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to run Mr. Dean off and challenge Mr. Bush herself. “He’s doctor-assisted suicide for Democrats.”

But the image of Mr. Dean is certainly not that of some pony-tailed peacenik wearing funky glasses like the people who came to the Green Mountain State by the busload during the 1960s and 1970s.

When Mr. Dean says he opposes the war in Iraq, he does so without raising any questions about his ability or willingness to fight if he wanted to.

“With his sleeves rolled up, he’s kind of a bull-doggy looking guy,” Mr. Smith said.

Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett said confrontational campaigning was Mr. Dean’s style during much of his political career in the state.

“To a large degree, his tone and his rhetoric is so vitriolic that it’s tapped into a hatred among partisan liberals who actually hate President Bush,” Mr. Barnett said. “I don’t think it’s something Howard Dean should be proud of.”

Many key national Republicans are gleeful at the prospect of a Bush-Dean race next year. They are confident Mr. Dean can be portrayed as an ultraliberal, aging hippie with short hair.

Such sentiments remind Mr. Smith of the 1980 Republican primary, when then-President Carter looked way off to the right and hoped he would face an easy-to-beat Ronald Reagan.

“You have to be careful,” Mr. Smith said. “You might get what you ask for.”


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