Dean Focuses On Ky. Special

Targets Fundraising to Jan. Race

Posted December 5, 2003 at 6:24pm

After raising more than $50,000 for Iowa Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in less than 24 hours last week, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign is weighing a similar effort in Kentucky’s 6th district, where a special election to replace Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) is expected to be held in late January.

The gambit has opened a new front in Dean’s effort to win over House Democrats and rankled operatives for Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), whose colleagues have provided the backbone of his quest for the White House.

“We have built a grassroots campaign capable of doing this in targeted races in both the Senate and the House,” said Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. “We welcome the chance to try one more time between now and Iowa.”

The date of the special election is not entirely clear, but it is likely to fall right around the time of the Iowa caucuses (Jan. 19) and New Hampshire primary (Jan. 27). Strategists for House Democrats are hopeful that a victory there will allow them to claim much-needed momentum heading into the 2004 elections. Fletcher was elected governor last month, and both national parties anticipate a competitive race to replace him.

Dean’s move drew immediate criticism from Gephardt aides.

“We think it is great that [Dean] is doing something to help put Democrats in the majority, but it is unfortunate that they have made it a litmus test that you be anti-war to receive his help,” said Gephardt senior adviser Steve Elmendorf.

The Dean campaign emphasized that support for the legislation would not disqualify a Member from receiving a fundraising boost.

“We will support Democrats who need and welcome our support,” Trippi said.

Dean’s attempt to transfer the fundraising potency he has displayed on his own behalf to vulnerable down-ballot candidates is the latest in a series of moves aimed at quickly establishing a hammerlock on the party nomination and turning his attention to a general election campaign against President Bush.

The idea originated in a spring meeting between Trippi and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Dean’s first two Hill supporters.

Trippi previewed the plan in a June PowerPoint presentation to individual Members, but said at the same time it was unlikely the Dean campaign would attempt to use their ever-growing Internet fundraising database to benefit other candidates until they had secured the nomination. That timeline has been moved up significantly due to Dean’s growing momentum.

In fact, the Boswell fundraising drive would have happened sooner but the Iowa Democrat did not have a re-election Web site up and running, Lofgren said.

“When we are considered the nominee of the party or are on track to do that in March or April, at that point we believe we can be very effective in not just growing the grassroots faster but engaging them in key [down-ballot] races,” Trippi said.

In what can only be seen as an all-out push to put the nomination out of reach, Dean is planning to launch television ads in Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina and New Mexico — all states that hold Feb. 3 primaries in the next 10 days.

“We intend to win every one of these states and we believe the Dean campaign is the only campaign that has the capacity in resources and grassroots to conduct a campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire as well as these February 3 states,” Trippi said.

Polling shows Dean in a near tie with Gephardt in Iowa and with a sizeable lead in New Hampshire. A Zogby poll released Friday showed Dean with a statistically insignificant lead in South Carolina.

The Boswell experiment appears to have piqued the interest of some Members.

Lofgren said that in a conference call with Member supporters Wednesday to detail the program, they were “very enthusiastic.”

“They remember being triangulated and this is a lot different,” said Lofgren, referring to a strategy of using more liberal Congressional Democrats as a foil to adopt more moderate policies employed by former President Bill Clinton.

The $52,000 total collected for Boswell in the 24-hour Dean fundraising drive represented roughly 33 percent of the $143,000 the Iowa Democrat had raised from individuals through Sept. 30.

Howard Wolfson, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director and now a consultant with the Glover Park Group, said “any time you can raise money for someone it earns you goodwill.”

Boswell has said he will remain neutral in the Iowa caucuses.

Wolfson noted that at the end of the 2002 cycle the DCCC experimented with sending out e-mail and direct-mail appeals to their donors asking them to give to individual Democratic candidates. Wolfson described the response as “modest.”

“If Dean’s grassroots Internet supporters can be directed to give money to sitting Members of the House, that would be a revolutionary change in the way Members raise money,” Wolfson said.

DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards said the committee “would welcome any and all help from our presidential candidates.”

Aside from its practical effects, Dean’s willingness to raise money for Members of Congress has significant symbolic repercussions as well.

Dean has anchored his campaign in his status as an outsider to the Washington political culture, and his success to this point clearly has some senior strategists in the party concerned about the effect his opposition to the war could have on down-ballot races.

The Boswell fundraising effort seems a direct attempt to quiet those fears, with aides seeking to demonstrate that although Dean has risen to the front of the field as an outsider, he understands how to play the inside game.

“Dean wants to be elected president with a Democratic House because he realizes it will be a lot harder to get his agenda accomplished if [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [Texas] is running the House,” Lofgren said.

Elmendorf dismissed the effect that Dean’s latest gambit would have on his reputation among Members or Democrats’ chances of taking back the House.

“We think the best chance for House Democrats to regain the majority is to have a strong nominee who understands the political needs of Members of Congress,” he said. “No one understands that better than Dick Gephardt.”