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Dean staff recalls campaign that changed politics

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Don’t take this as the doctor’s advice on what to eat, but what Howard Dean remembers best is the ham sandwich.

Dean, a physician by training, sat in front of a webcam chatting between bites one day during his 2004 bid for the White House while then-Vice President Dick Cheney attended an event in South Carolina. Both were trying to raise campaign cash.

In that instance, Dean raised more.

It was a sea change in American politics that continues to resonate as the former Vermont governor, his campaign staff and supporters gather this weekend for the 10th anniversary of his campaign kickoff. That came June 23, 2003, when Dean drew a crowd of more than 5,000 to Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace.

It all flamed out seven months later, when, after a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Dean gave a concession speech that ended with a war whoop described as the “Dean scream” and replayed countless times in the days following.

But while it lasted, Dean scored several firsts, said Daniel Kreiss, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina who has written extensively on the role of the Internet in politics.

Among them were the systematic uses of email to raise funds and blogging and social networking to organize supporters, Kreiss wrote in an email.

Dean also attracted young, tech-savvy bloggers through his campaign’s willingness to use open-source software, Kreiss has written.

“On a cultural level, using open-source technologies reflected what these volunteers saw as the openness of the campaign,” he wrote. Dean’s volunteers “believed that the campaigns of Dean’s rivals did not have the same open culture and therefore would be unable to take full advantage of this organizing tool.”

The result, said Nicco Mele, who served as Dean’s webmaster and now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was a campaign that used online video in the days before YouTube and social networking before Facebook existed.

“It was the first political campaign to really aggressively utilize the Internet to raise money and organize people,” Mele said. “We tried literally hundreds” of emerging Internet-based tools.

But all the new media would be for naught without Dean’s positions on issues, said campaign manager Joe Trippi. As governor in 2000, Dean signed Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil unions law providing legal recognition to same-sex couples. Dean also scored points with young people with his opposition to the war in Iraq, which he called “the wrong war at the wrong time.”

Trippi said in an interview that what he’s most proud of about the campaign is the number of staffers who’ve gone on to senior roles in other campaigns, the tech world or the media. Former staffer Joe Rospars is founder and CEO of Blue State Digital and was principal digital strategist for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. Garrett Graff, whom Trippi credits with coming up with the ham sandwich idea, is editor of The Washingtonian magazine. Trippi himself has been media strategist for several foreign campaigns and for that of California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2010.

“I don’t remember a losing presidential campaign to launch that many successes across the country in different parts of government and politics,” said Trippi. “It certainly has left its mark in a lot of ways.”

Dean said he’s looking forward to a gathering set for Sunday at Burlington’s Oakledge Park for staffers and volunteers to reflect and reminisce. Dean insisted that he was not the key to his campaign’s lasting impact.

“It isn’t me; it’s the movement that gathered under the banner of the campaign,” he said. “It was the coming of age of the millennial generation politically. Even though I bear no resemblance to Gene McCarthy,” who rallied young, anti-war activists to his 1968 presidential campaign, “it’s sort of the same phenomenon for this generation.”

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