The New Electable Howard Dean

Evolution of a Not-So-Radical Contender

It's not clear if his policies will go far enough to satisfy some of Dean's early supporters, and progressives that have rallied to his side. Many will note that the more controversial proposals did not make it to the body of his speech.

Franklin Kramer, a former official in the Clinton administration and one of Dean's advisers, called the candidate a "centrist."

"He is not in any way opposed to the use of force," he said. "And he believes in the approach that has worked for the U.S. for many years," a mix of military pressure, diplomacy, "and activities that go beyond that—generating coalitions and partnerships."

illustration: Ward Sutton

Al Gore to other Dems: Get lost.
(Photo: Shiho Fukada)
A week before Sunday's news from Iraq, Dean tackled America's racial politics, trying to go beyond the conventional appeal to just say no to Bush.

He traveled to Reverend Joiquim Barnes's small church in Columbia, South Carolina, where he was joined on the dais by another big draw—Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. At ease and popular in this setting, Jackson would speak first and introduce Dean, who is still finding his way in front of black audiences.

Oddly, the church wasn't nearly full.

The day before, Dean had thrown out "the red meat"—the nickname for his stump speech—to the party faithful at the Florida Democratic Convention, a hyped-up, placard-waving throng in the ballroom at a Disney World hotel. When he was done, he strolled out of the giant hall, sucking out all the life he had stirred, and a lot of the people too. Poor Dennis Kucinich was left appealing for courage and change to a half-full room.

But the ground under this church at the intersection of Ridgewood and Wildsmere in Columbia was less familiar, and possibly more important.

Dean has to prove to his doubters that he can compete for votes, both black and white, in the South. His campaign hopes that after his stops here, the excitement will follow him, eventually leaving competitors like Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, and John Edwards nothing but half-full rooms. For the moment, though, polls show that Dean still trails all of those men in conservative South Carolina. And while black voters are strongly anti-war, and a majority of them oppose Bush, they are far from decided that Dean represents the best alternative.

Congressman Jackson took the stage, filling the church hollows with a highly charged sermon. Reminding parishioners of his family's deep roots in South Carolina, he recounted the biblical tale of General Naaman, the Syrian leper who, despite his record of great military service, could not shake the stigma of his disease.

"Christ did not die on this altar between these two candles," he continued, his arms outstretched and his hands now quivering.

"He died on Calvary between two thieves. Between—two pimps, if you will. Between two pushers."

This was allegory. The sick in America deserve health care, Jackson reasoned. "Between—two health care thieves," he exclaimed. Millions of children expected higher-quality education, the congressman thundered. "Between—two education thieves!"

Murmurs of broad agreement floated up from the congregation, hit the low roof of the church, and journeyed toward Jackson, who by now was running very hot. "The Christ that we serve, died engaged in the process for change," he said. The congregation now had Jesus on its side, a reason to shout. "You've gotta believe that we can beat George Bush."

Howard Dean weighed the speech, smiled, and surely wondered how on earth he would top it. At least Jackson had played to Dean's strengths, citing issues he hopes will define his campaign: health care, jobs, and education.

Taking his turn at the pulpit, he spoke slowly and softly. "I have to follow Reverend Barnes," he said, smiling. "I have to follow Congressman Jackson. I have to follow the choir?" He looked around, soaking up a bit of sympathetic laughter.

"I am grateful to be here," he began.

Two days later, Dean was indisputably the man to beat.

This was a collision of happy accidents, the fruits of a shrewd campaign, or maybe parts of both. But on December 9, two days after the trip to South Carolina, Al Gore endorsed Dean, ending, in the minds of many pundits, the Democratic nomination race.

There was wide speculation on why it had happened and what it meant. To some, the endorsement heralded the start of a new, powerful faction of the Democratic Party. A ragtag guerrilla movement mobilized on the Internet, united in opposition to the war in Iraq, and made powerful by liberal groups like,, and the myriad activist groups thriving under the Dean campaign umbrella.

Much hay was also made of Gore's personal motivations. Perhaps this was a parry of the Clintons' support for General Clark. Or simply recognition that whatever the Democratic Party stood for when Gore ruled the roost, it needed an overhaul, and Dean was the man to do it.

Gore, speaking in Harlem, called Howard Dean the only candidate "who has been able to inspire [voters] at the grassroots level." The former vice president all but called on the rest of the Democratic hopefuls to drop out of the race. "Democracy is a team sport," he warned. "We can't afford to be divided amongst ourselves." On the strength of the endorsement, Dean was able to raise almost $700,000.

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