ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE. I've long responded to the steady stream of articles positing a Dean/Emanuel split with the hope that someone would take a breath from chronicling Emanuel's desire for more money and actually evaluate Dean's 50-state strategy. Finally, U.S. News' Dan Gilgoff did exactly that. "Here's what the front line of Howard Dean's revolution looks like." he writes, "two dozen senior citizens seated inside this gated community's clubhouse listening intently as operatives from the state Democratic Party pitch them on becoming precinct captains." The clubhouse is in Diamondhead, Mississippi, and it's the first time in more than a decade that anyone in the state had tried to train Democratic precinct captains. How's it working?
The gambit has remade the Mississippi party with four full-time, DNC-paid staffers and a fundraiser. In four months, finance director Wendi Hooks has tripled the number of $1,000-plus donors to 24 and expects to more than double the party's budget this year, to $400,000. Two field representatives have recruited captains in more than 500 precincts so far, along with volunteers for phone banks and canvassing. "I've been trying to contact the party since I moved back here in 1992," says Harold Terry, 43, a Jackson native who volunteered last week at a phone bank. "Someone finally got back to me three weeks ago."
The new DNC hires tell similar stories. Rita Royals is a 57-year-old former rape crisis counselor who paid to print her own Kerry signs in 2004. That same year, DeMiktric Biggs, a student at Jackson State University, sent a county-by-county voter analysis to almost everyone on the state Democratic committee--and never got a reply. Now, the party is using his work to plan its ground game.
As the 2006 election nears, the precinct captains whom Royals and Biggs are training will be put to work leveraging the DNC's updated voter file--improved since technical glitches stymied many state parties' get-out-the-vote efforts in 2004. Of course, with President Bush winning Mississippi with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party isn't expecting dramatic results anytime soon. "The Republicans had 30 years to put themselves in the position they're in," says Dean. "To think we're going to turn the party around in four is wrong."
And who knows, maybe the whole strategy is wrong. But it is a strategy, not just a meaningless diversion of resources, and its eventual success or failure will prove to be one of the major political stories of the next decade.