Breaking down the Dean buzz

by Matthew Kelly | 11/11/03 6:00am

One of the biggest stories thus far in the race for the Democratic nomination for president has been the surprise success of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Dean, who will visit the College on Thursday, entered the race as a virtual unknown but has since emerged as the front-runner, outpacing the other seven major candidates in terms of fundraising and popularity, notably in New Hampshire.

While a recent Harvard University Institute of Politics poll found widespread student support for President Bush, Dean has also appealed to many college-age voters, including those at Dartmouth.

Dean By The Numbers

Thirty percent of all respondents to an Oct. 22 poll conducted by The Dartmouth said they would vote for Dean. This compares with only nine percent each for Wesley Clark and John Kerry and less than five percent for the remaining Democrats. Support for Dean outpaced even that for President Bush, who received 20 percent.

In New Hampshire as a whole, a Nov. 6 poll run by the American Research Group placed Dean's support at 38 percent, compared with 24 percent for Kerry and low single digits for the remaining candidates. A Franklin Pierce College poll released in October found similar results.

Dean initially trailed in New Hampshire, despite governing a neighboring state. The New Hampshire primary, the first primary of the season, will take place Jan. 27, 2004.

Nationally, however, Dean's support is not as pronounced. Although an Oct. 26 Gallup poll placed Dean in a nationwide lead, at 16 percent, support for Clark, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Kerry trailed close behind, ranging from 15 to 10 percent.

As of Oct. 15, Dean had raised over $25 million, compared with just over $20 million for Kerry. John Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman all raised between $11 million and $15 million.

Moreover, the Dean campaign is exploring the possibility of foregoing federal matching funds and the spending limits that come with them. He would need unlimited primary spending to match President Bush, who himself is not participating in the matching funds program, and has thus far raised over $84 million.

Sources of Dean's Appeal

Given these statistics, many have speculated on why Dean is striking such a chord among Democrats.

Linda Fowler, government professor and Director of the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, sees three factors in Dean's rise to the top of the Democratic race: his grassroots Internet-based campaign, which brought in unexpectedly large amounts of donations, his opposition to the war in Iraq and subsequent free media attention, and finally his style, which she termed "a unique blend of Yankee forthrightness and a mix of both liberal and conservative."

These attributes have brought Dean credibility in the media and among the public, something Dean lacked entering the race, Fowler said.

Most important to Dean's nomination aspirations is money. Fowler sees Dean's ability to reach a broader base of fundraisers who have only donated small amounts thus far as key. Many of the other candidates' supporters have already given the $2,000 hard money cap. The average Dean donation is $80.

"In the end, the way the primary has shaped out in the past two decades is that the candidate who has the most money going into the primary is the one who's left standing," Fowler said. "That's turned out to be a very strong predictor. Right now, that happens to be Dean."

Fowler also said that Dean will have to move beyond his base of highly educated professionals and gather support from traditional Democratic constituencies.

"The real challenge for Dean is whether he is going to make any inroads with unions," Fowler said. "And the other is whether he can connect with black voters. Right now he is the darling of the yuppie wing of the party."

Dean is expected to receive the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's largest unions next week. However, he drew the ire of blacks with comments he made regarding the Confederate flag, which he defended during last Tuesday's debate.

Deanie Babies: Dean's Draw at Dartmouth and other Colleges

Matthew Gardner, Dean's New Hampshire Press Secretary, accounts for his boss' popularity among college students by stressing his forthrightness and courage to speak out against the President.

"Governor Dean appeals to younger people because he is a straight talker," Gardner said. "He doesn't play typical politician's games."

Fowler agrees that Dean's style is a major drawing point among young people. But with respect to Dean's overwhelming support among Dartmouth students, Fowler sees the Internet as playing a major role.

"We are a computer savvy campus, and I think a lot of students are attracted to the Internet aspect that makes Dean feel like a really progressive, forward-looking candidate," Fowler said.

She also believes that Dean's early criticism of the war in Iraq sat well with the overall anti-war sentiment on campus. Study abroad programs may also expose many students to anti-Americanism that perhaps changes their perception of the war and the President.

Democratic students, both Dean supporters and otherwise, echoed the sentiments of Gardener and Fowler.

Graham Roth '04, a Dean volunteer, stressed Dean's McCain-esqe style as important to his success. He also agreed that the Internet plays a vital role in Dean's success at Dartmouth.

"The first thing is that Dean brings a certain fire that the other candidates don't," Roth said. "The second thing is that he uses the Internet effectively, and Dartmouth students are plugged in."

Roth believes that while the Internet is a medium in which Dean succeeds, it is the issues that ultimately matter. He compared John F. Kennedy's success with television to Dean's success on the Internet.

Personally, Roth was first interested by Dean due to his anti-war stance. Additionally, he said Dean "has the best experience in health care and balancing budgets," Roth said.

Casey Ley '07, another Dean volunteer, was attracted to Dean because of his strong stance against the Bush administration's policies.

"Dean has led the charge to make it acceptable to question the blind adherence to an administration that has completely ignored the legitimate grievances of so many Americans," Ley said.

Other Democrats on campus see his liberalism, style and anti-war stance as crucial to his appeal as a candidate.

"I think he's supported because he's the most blatant anti-Bush and anti-war candidate, and so are most Dartmouth students," Russell Bisker '06, an undecided Democrat, said. "I think he's also more of a straight shooter."

"I think that his liberal/progressive ideas resonate with the generally liberal student body," said Marcelena DeJesus '04, also an undecided Democrat.

Fowler pointed out that voter turnout among the young tends to be extremely low. Unless Dean can bring this new group of voters to the polls on election day, his inroads with the young will be meaningless.

"The main thing is that [college students] don't vote, so big deal," Fowler said. "They may like Dean, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to vote. A lot of young people liked [Former New Jersey Senator Bill] Bradley."