Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose successful bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee has been supported by a variety of organizations on the left, and recently won the favor of the University College Democrats, has assumed the helm of the Democratic Party at a difficult time. After a discouraging defeat last November, the DNC and its new chairman must work to build their party into a competitive force for the 2006 and 2008 elections. The organizational and fundraising skills Dean brings to the DNC chair, along with his capacity to energize the Democratic base are likely to make a positive impact on the party’s outcome in future elections.
The chairman’s primary responsibilities are to organize the party establishment and raise money to fund Democratic candidates’ races. During his run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Dean exemplified his strengths in both of the these fields. He organized a mass volunteer base that catapulted him to the front-runner position leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Dean’s tactic of using volunteers to recruit voters would be a refreshing approach if applied at a national scale.
Dean was especially adept at recruiting young voters into his corner during the 2004 primary campaign. As DNC chairman, he can go beyond recruiting for himself and bring a new generation of Americans into the Democratic Party. These new Democrats, already actively engaged in the learning and maturation processes, will help lay a foundation for a bright future for the party.
Dean was also the first politician who effectively utilized the Internet to raise small amounts of money from a large number of people in accordance with new campaign finance laws. With less than four years until the 2008 presidential elections, Dean could perfect the art of Internet fundraising and give the Democrats a fundraising advantage over the Republicans, who have traditionally relied on a smaller number of wealthy donors. Dean will also be an effective fundraiser in the traditional sense of the term — a charismatic host and an energetic speaker.
There has been much speculation over Dean’s viability as the public face of the Democratic Party. It is unclear that voters are swayed much by what a party’s chairman says during an election cycle; most voters make their decisions based on what the contesting candidates bring to the table. That said, Dean has been a highly visible figure within the Democratic Party and has the potential to bring the position of DNC chairman to greater prominence. His statement while accepting the DNC chairmanship that the Democrats must build a nationwide party competitive in all 50 states, while perhaps sounding optimistic, display a fighting spirit that the Democrats sorely need.
When Dean speaks, he speaks from his heart — directly to the soul of the Democratic base. After the 2004 elections, some assumed the Democratic Party would be forced to move to the political right in order to win future elections. While this was clearly not the chosen path, the selection of Dean nevertheless signals an attempt to clearly define the party’s platform and jumpstart its wilting support base. Once Americans see the clearly defined choice, they will side with the Democrats on the issues that matter to them.