Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2004 / 28 Teves, 5764
Dean is gonna squeal like a squirrel again
NASHUA, N.H. I think I know why the other night Howard Dean screamed like a squirrel who had just lost his nuts: He had just been told that New Hampshire voters were even more discerning than Iowa voters.
It is not merely that Howard Dean came in third in Iowa with only 18 percent of the vote.
No, the magnitude of his defeat is far more stunning than that: Dean campaigned in all of Iowa's 99 counties. He was organized in all them, had precinct captains, staffers, volunteers, and the whole kit and caboodle of modern, high-tech campaigning in all of them.
Dean ended up winning two.
He won two counties and tied in two others. Out of 99! That is a staggering defeat.
I spent part of the weekend before the Iowa caucuses at Dean headquarters in Des Moines. Large groups of kids wearing orange stocking caps and carrying backpacks and laptops wandered in and out. Boxes of cell phones lay on the floor. Volunteers sat at tables making call after call.
I went to the inner sanctum: the second floor office of the Field Operations Group where I was solemnly assured that "Dean is first or second in all but six counties in Iowa." I was give a Top Secret color-coded map, which proved absolutely proved! that Dean could not lose.
The numbers, I was told, were unbeatable: more than 2,000 volunteers arriving in Iowa in a single day. More than 200,000 doors to be knocked on. Each committed Dean voter to be contacted personally each day by a Dean volunteer.
"It's about personal contact," a top Dean aide told me. "Our precinct captains have a personal relationship with each voter."
So what happened? I bet Howard Dean is asking himself that today.
First, how closely did we examine those groups of orange-hatted kids? How many were actual human beings and how many were holographic projections?
Just kidding. Let's not blame the volunteers. Make no mistake: The failure of Dean in Iowa was not about his organization; it was about him.
I was as surprised as anyone. I should not have been. Last March I wrote an entire story on presidential politics and likability.
"While there are certainly other, and perhaps better, reasons to elect a president," I wrote, "likability continues to be a major concern with candidates and the media as the 2004 presidential race gears up. Though likability is highly subjective, one could argue that from the election of Reagan to the present, the more likable nominee has won the presidency each time."
And how likable was Howard Dean in the last weeks of his Iowa campaign? How likable was he when he shouted down a questioner at one of his speeches? How likable was he when he ran negative ads attacking his fellow Democrats?
And if you were attracted to Howard Dean because he was a new, fresh, non-Washington face, how likable was he when he went grubbing after the old, stale, and very-Washington endorsements of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Al Gore?
And even if you don't like the news media, how likable was Dean on election day snapping at journalists because they had the audacity to show up at one of his public events? Or slapping away the microphone of a radio reporter because the reporter had the temerity to try and do his job?
I don't think the Dean staff lied to me. I just think they were drinking their own Kool Aid. I think they were so deep into the mechanics of the campaign, they were ignoring the big picture: And the big picture was that voters who once liked Howard Dean no longer liked him.
The voters weren't going to say that to the earnest volunteers who came to their doors in the cold. No, the Dean voters simply went to the polls and voted for candidates they liked, candidates who were not Howard Dean.
"Angry Howard" has gotten Howard Dean quite far. It has gotten him $41 million, a first place ranking in the national polls and a huge organization.
"Angry Howard" did not get him Iowa, however. And one reason he has been acting so goofy lately is because he is terrified it will not get him New Hampshire, either.
Dean is not just a candidate in search of a new message. He is a human being in search of a new personality.
In the end, campaigns are not about machinery or color charts or phone banks. In the end, campaigns are about campaigning.
In the end, campaigns are about a candidate who has something to say and knows how to say it.
In other words, Howard Dean has his work cut out for him.
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