Howard Dean's 'secret weapons'

Howard Dean may or may not emerge as the Democrats’ choice to face off against President George W. Bush next year, but he already has had a huge impact on the way US political campaigns are financed and run.

The multi-million dollar war chests needed to fund US presidential elections have always come from large contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals.

But Dean has rocketed past his Democratic competitors in fundraising by collecting millions of dollars in small donations—with some gifts equaling less than the cost of dinner for two.

“The way to beat George Bush, who gets all those $2000 cheques is to get a million and a half people to give you $75,” Dean said on the campaign trail in the farm state of Iowa last week.

Dean raised $15-million between July and September—the most any Democratic presidential candidate has ever raised in one three-month period, and three times as much as his closest Democratic challenger for the White House.

“A quarter of our gifts were from people under 30 years old,” Dean added, noting that many of those donations came from first-time contributors to a political campaign.

The former Vermont governor, whose runaway popularity is largely attributable to his early and outspoken opposition to the Iraq war, noted that much of his success is based on his appeal to younger voters.

“Your age is driving our campaign,” Dean, 54, tells an audience of high school students in a small town in rural Iowa.

“You’re on the Internet. You’re giving us ideas ...
This campaign is driven by people under 30 years old,” said Dean, who is the father of a 17-year old son and a 19-year old daughter.

The legions of fresh-scrubbed youth whom Dean calls his “secret weapon” not only are contributing money in record amounts, but have also signed on as foot soldiers for the campaign.

“Every weekend people fan out—120 000 people—talking to folks about this campaign,” Dean told a crowd of supporters in Iowa.

And a multiplier effect is now occuring, as members of “Generation Dean” recruit their parents and neighbors to their cause.

“My 26-year old son who lives in Minneapolis told me about six months ago ‘Mom, you need to pull up Howard Dean on the Internet and see what he wants to do for taking America back’,” said church worker in her 70s, at a library in the rural town of Sibley Iowa, where Dean made a campaign stop last week.

Dean was the first candidate to make extensive use of a weblog or “blog”—an online diary, sometimes with links to recommended websites—as a way to keep in touch with tech-savvy supporters.

Thousands of other converts are finding their way to the Dean campaign via the website called “Meetup.com.” The web-based group, boasting three-quarters of a million members, acts as a go-between for groups of Internet users, helping

them arrange real-life meetings to discuss their shared interests.

The website helps organize all sort of gatherings—yoga lovers, poker players, anime aficionados—but so far has had the most success bringing together Dean supporters, who make up its single biggest group—now topping 130 000 people.

Other political candidates, including retired General Wesley Clark and pacifist US Representative Dennis Kucinich have also begun to organize on Meetup.com. It is not yet clear that political organizing in cyberspace will yield real world votes, but Dean is banking that it will.

“We’re going to go out and get three or four million people who voted third party, or who didn’t vote at all to come to the polls.

We’re going to have more votes than George W. Bush,” Dean said. “And this time,” he adds, “the person with the most votes is going to the White House.”—Sapa-AFP

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