Was Howard Dean Good for the DNC?

ImageWith the news that Howard Dean will stepping down from his post as chairman of the DNC once his term ends in January, I wonder if Howard Dean helped or hurt the Democratic Party. The answer depends on whether we are talking Dean the spokesperson, or the man in charge of the DNC.

Howard Dean inherited an organization and a party that was politically adrift. More than anything the party needed a daily voice of opposition against the Bush administration. Dean was perfect for this role. He was able to make passionate arguments against the culture of corporate welfare that guided the administration’s tax policies. He was able to speak out against the Iraq war before Democrats took back the Congress in 2006, and he played a key in attacking John McCain while the Democratic Party was still locked up in the Clinton/Obama contest.

Some people will give Dean credit for his 50 state strategy in the 2006 election, but that strategy was largely a bust as Democrats mostly made their congressional gains in states that were already blue, or trending that way. No, Dean’s 50 state strategy did not pave for Obama’s strategy in 2008. Obama had superior field organization and loads of cash which allowed him to compete in red states. All of the credit for the 2006 win belongs to the House and Senate masterminds, Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer. They recruited the candidates and raised the money, not Dean.

In fact when it comes to building the DNC as an organization, Dean struggled. Elected Democrats paid little attention to Dean, and as an organization the DNC was low on funds by the time Obama won the nomination. Dean was viewed by some as using the DNC to further his own political ambitions, but it is clear, that he did a great job trying to restore order to the Democratic primary schedule by holding a firm line on Michigan and Florida. His decision may have caused a great deal of drama, but stripping Michigan and Florida of their delegates for violating the rules was the right thing to do.

All in all, I think Dean’s time as the DNC chair was a positive for the party, but now that Democrats have a clear voice and leader in president elect Obama, they need a different kind of person at the DNC. Dr. Dean was the right person at the right time, but now a chair is needed who can speak from the position of the White House and majority. It is traditional that the incoming president appoints the next party chair. If history is a guide, Obama will appoint someone from his campaign. Let’s hope that they make it a goal to strengthen the DNC along with state and local parties.

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3 Replies to “Was Howard Dean Good for the DNC?”

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Dean because the DNC was low on funds by election day. The DNC’s usually deep in debt by the time the election comes around, and this time, they spent a lot of money because there were so many winnable races. Before Dean, the party lost seats in several consecutive races – even in years when the Republicans were overall unpopular. Since Dean, they made sweeping gains in both houses of Congress and won the White House. Yes, Shumer, Emmanuel and Obama deserve lots of credit for that. But Dean does too – he was involved in all of those gains.

  2. Dean did a great job at the DNC. He is the genesis of the 50-state strategy…a strategy which Rahm Emanuel opposed until it began to reap benefits. Then Emanuel publicly got on board.

    Personally, I would have loved to see a Dean/Bush show down in 2004. Dean had A TON of populist sentiment behind him. It would have been a better, tighter race, and I believe, it could have swung the White House to the Democrats.

  3. I like Howard Dean and thought he did a fine job. As for the “who helped to win the election” it didn’t seem to matter if it was a red state or a blue state because it was the urban areas that swayed the vote towards Obama.

    The next leader should focus on the Electoral College and Super Delegates. This system is what needs the most attention. Popular vote does not dictate a win…just ask AL Gore! I also think the DNC should work with the states to set up a more uniform system of voting and work to have every ballot accounted for.

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