Dean: “We can't afford to lose a single vote in Iowa”
Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean called Iowa “one of the most important swing states in America” at the University of Iowa Friday.
“We didn't win Iowa last time,” Dean said in his first Iowa City visit since a rally the night before the 2004 caucuses. “If we win Iowa this time, we will win the presidency of the United States of America.”
Riding into town on a red white and blue Obama “Register For Change” bus, Dean stressed voter registration, early voting, and volunteering.
“We can't afford to lose a single vote in Iowa, I'm not kidding. Not one,” said Dean, asking the mostly
student crowd to pretend the eager staffers in the back armed with voter registration forms ware big burly security guards. “They won't let you past them until you get signed up.”
Dean emphasized generational change in his speech, which was part of a tour of college campuses.
“Barack Obama is the candidate of a new generation,” said Dean. “He's older than you, but he thinks like you, he speaks like you. This is the time where you're going to make a difference.”
“The mistake we made was after we changed America, we decided it was OK to sit back,” said the 59 year old Dean of his baby boom generation. “We removed ourselves from politics for a generation. You need to learn from our mistakes, George Bush and Dick Cheney would not be in the White House today if we had stayed involved. You can't take a vacation from politics.”
Dean cited the importance of one on one persuasion in Tim Kaine's 2005 victory for governor of Virginia. That race, shortly after Dean assumed the DNC chair was an early test of Dean's “50 State Strategy” of campaigning everywhere, even in areas that have been historically Republican.
“We had people wither who knew the person or had something in common with them, and we knocked on their doors three times,” said Dean. “This is more than just a blitz like you're used to, this is actually getting to know people and they're much more likely to listen to you.”
The 50 State Strategy was at first derided by party insiders, but Obama embraced it early, and it has now paid off with a trifecta of early 2008 special election wins in heavily Republican congressional districts.
“We've got a lot in common with people in states that have been run by Republicans since before Ronald Reagan,” said former Iowa House minority leader Dick Myers, introducing Dean and praising the 50 State Strategy. “Now we're electing people from Mississippi on the Democratic ticket. We're electing people from Louisiana on the Democratic ticker.”
Myers was a key early Obama supporter in 2008, just as he was for Dean in 2004 and for Jimmy Carter in 1976. “We've got a great candidate – the best I've ever seen, and I'm an old, old man,” said Myers, a very energetic 73 years old. “I don't care if you live to be 600, this is the most important election you'll ever be involved in. I've been around Barack Obama for almost two years. Not getting paid or nothing, just observing, And with all my experience I can tell you -- this guy is the real deal.”
Dean mingling and posing for pictures with students following the speech.
In many ways – strong appeal to young voters, successful use of the internet for fundraising and organizing -- Obama's successful path to the Democratic nomination was modeled on Dean's unsuccessful 2004 campaign. “The party needed a backbone, and Howard Dean made people proud to be Democrats,” Nate Willems of Lisbon told Iowa Independent. Willems was one of the first staffers on Dean's campaign, and is now running for the Iowa House.
“Dean had more of an issue oriented appeal – the war, tax cuts and No Child Left Behind,” said Willems, “and Obama is more about the big picture.”
Dean acknowledged as much. “Iraq and the economy and jobs, gas prices and health care are what this about in the short term,” he said. “But in the long term this is about healing America” after 30 years of divisive politics. “Your generation has rejected that and, so has Barack Obama. We need to start working on the things we do agree on to make the world a better place.”
Of course, it wouldn't be a partisan event without at least a little red meat, and Dean, who spent the week in St. Paul counter-messaging the Republican convention, offered a few servings. “I agree with Barack Obama, I don't think they get it at all,” said Dean. “John McCain's campaign is run by lobbyists, it is paid for by lobbyists, John McCain is owned by lobbyists.”
“We're not the tax party – the Republicans are the borrow and spend party,” Dean said. “We can't afford any more Bush-McCain economic policies. Are you going to believe John McCain and Sarah Palin on TV one night, or the record of the last eight years?”