Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) will meet with his Congressional supporters as soon as this week as he finalizes plans to create an entity to harness the power of the grassroots network built during his presidential campaign to benefit House and Senate candidates.
Dean has spent the time since he departed the contest Feb. 18 planning this new organization, the details of which he will announce March 18, according to spokesman Jay Carson.
“Individual candidates and organizations have reached out to us,” said Carson. “We are working to figure out the best and most effective way to help those people.”
“We are going to work with Howard and he’s very interested in helping us,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Dean’s first House supporter.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) believes that Dean can play a “major role in helping us take back the House.”
Not all in the party believe that Dean’s involvement on behalf of candidates would be beneficial, however, pointing out that his organization was not able to deliver even a single caucus or primary victory.
“What’s the evidence that he has any widespread support?” asked one Democratic consultant.
The enigma of Dean’s potential effect on down-ballot races centers on his astounding rise and fall in the presidential race.
A nonfactor in the race as late as January 2003, Dean sat atop the field one year later, having raised $50 million, largely in small-dollar contributions, and developed a huge volunteer network — numbering more than 700,000 at its peak — through the Internet.
Despite those organizational advantages, Dean faltered in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses, placing a distant third.
After finishing second in the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, Dean was unable to recover and never made a serious challenge for the nomination.
Even as his campaign collapsed, however, both Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.) adopted much of his rhetoric, which centered on harsh criticism of President Bush over the Iraq war.
“Our sense is that people recognize that he has energized the party and has Democrats standing up and being Democrats again,” Carson said.
“We have the best producing and maintained small-donor list in the party,” he added.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), a staunch Dean backer, said that “Democrats should turn to him and that network.”
Dean “wants to use it. Howard is willing to help Democrats regain the House and Senate,” Nadler added.
One senior Democratic aide added that “if Howard Dean sends out an e-mail to his people and says ‘Help’ — that would be a huge coup for us.”
Dean put the transferability of his financial supporters to an early test in December when in roughly 24 hours he helped raise $52,000 for Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa).
At the time, Dean manager Joe Trippi said the campaign planned to do similar fundraising drives for a variety of Democratic candidates once the nomination was secured.
One Democratic strategist, said that “if you are running a race in New England or Washington or Oregon and Howard Dean comes to visit your campaign, he is going to raise some money.”
The source added that the Democratic Party can always use more individuals with a national profile who can — and are willing to — travel the country to raise money for House candidates.
But some Democrats worry that Dean’s fiery opposition to the war in Iraq and support for a complete rollback of the Bush tax cuts could make him politically poisonous for Democrats running in swing districts or Southern states.
“If you were a political consultant to a Democrat running in a swing district, would you advise him to have Howard Dean come in and campaign? No,” said another Democratic strategist.
“I wouldn’t send him to Texas,” said Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), a backer of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign. “But there are parts of the country where he has great appeal. We can find areas that make sense.”
But opposition to Dean is not universally held among Democrats.
“Within a few months he will seem less toxic to mainstream Democrats,” predicted a well-connected Democratic strategist.
“The smell of his collapse will dissipate and, presuming he has a base that goes with him, he could be helpful,” the source added.