Thursday, August 15, 2013

And then he's going to California! And Texas! And Oregon! And Michigan!

"4. No politician goes to Iowa by accident. NONE." That's one of Chris Cillizza's "5 immutable rules of politics" posted just this past Monday, after a weekend of especially intense Republican activism in Iowa.

Now the Democrats are laying down their Just In Case Hillary Doesn't Run markers in Iowa. Amy Klobuchar hops across the Minnesota border to Mason City Friday, and Joe Biden is lined up for the Harkin Steak Fry next month.

But today, a news flash out of 2003:
Howard Dean is returning to Iowa, the birthplace of his innovative 2004 presidential campaign — and the site of his amplified death wail.

Mr. Dean’s main topic will not be the White House, but rather the state house, according to an aide at Democracy for America, the group the former Vermont governor founded after his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Dean plans to speak at the Iowa Federation of Labor convention in Altoona on Aug. 21 about his group’s effort to elect more Democrats to state legislatures.

The group’s “Purple to Blue” campaign has focused on five races in Virginia this year, but will expand to other states in 2014.

“This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing of Dean and Democracy for America in Iowa leading up to 2016,” the aide said.
And then he's going to California! And Texas! And Oregon! And Michigan!

Kidding aside, Dean is still a popular figure with the left of the party, and not only for his peaked too soon presidential campaign. Dean led the Democratic National Committee for four years, with a successful 50 State Strategy that led the party back to congressional control. And let's be honest, in 2008 Barack Obama debugged a campaign plan that Howard Dean beta-tested.

That was Howard Dean: just a little ahead of his time. The Scream Speech - artificially filtered audio to begin with (the infamous sound bite starts at 0:55) - took on a life of its own as an Internet meme, as shorthand for Dean supposedly being too "radical," too "dangerous," too... "crazy" to be trusted with the presidency.

Those themes were in the air here in Iowa in the last weeks before the 2004 caucuses. Remember, The Scream was after the Much More Important Third Place Finish. Pile-on attacks from other candidates, combined with strategic Anyone But Dean alliances among the other contenders (anyone else remember the Kucinich-Edwards pact? We Deanics do) scared just enough people into playing it safe. We have to nominate the electable candidate! They can't attack John Kerry, he's a war hero! Dean's too... risky.  If you know what I mean.

Those "risky" ideas, like getting out of Iraq, are mainstream now. Indeed, Dean's cutting edge 2003 support of civil unions for gay/lesbian couples would now be seen as unacceptably conservative in a Democratic primary contest.

In a country that honored Richard Nixon as an elder statesman, no one is beyond redemption, except John Edwards. What did Howard Dean really do, anyway? He got excited in front of a crowd and tried to be heard. Dean Sixteen might be redemptive for more than just the candidate. There's a heavy faction of Iowa caucus haters on the left of the Democratic Party, like Markos Moulitsas and Rachel Maddow. And the roots of that hate stem back to caucus night 2004, when Iowa scuttled Dean, the most viable anti-war candidate. 

Despite Rule 4, sometimes a trip to Iowa is just a trip to Iowa. And a labor conference focused on state legislative races is pure 50 State Strategy. I don't actually expect Dean to get into the race. What I expect to see is a bipolar race along the lines of 2000, with Clinton as the Gore-like prohibitive favorite with solid establishment support. Someone get to play Bill Bradley in this scenario, and Dean would be well positioned for that role.

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