Dean Seeks to Deploy Obama Foot Soldiers

Posted August 22, 2008 at 5:12pm

Behind the pomp and pageantry this week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean plans to launch an unparalleled training effort to teach thousands of Democratic activists how to mobilize voters behind the party’s efforts to elect Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) to the White House in November.

In an interview last week, Dean said that equally as important as the pageantry that will unfold nightly on the convention stage will be the training sessions DNC staff are planning aimed at turning the party faithful into reliable foot soldiers when they return home.

“This is about getting out the vote and it’s about registering millions of new voters in order to win,” Dean said. “A lot of this is going to be about — not just about the pomp and circumstance that’s going to be on television — it’s going to be a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff in getting these folks to be a part of the campaign, an active part of the campaign, because we need every one of them.”

The unprecedented training effort is just one factor that will go into producing a convention unlike any in the past, along with the unconventional location and the decision to move Obama’s Thursday night acceptance speech to the more-than-75,000-capacity Invesco Field at Mile High.

Also unconventional is the fact that Dean chose to showcase four women as the chair and co-chairs of the event.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the permanent chair of the convention, while Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin are serving as co-chairs.

Every four years the permanent chair of the convention alternates between women and men. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) chaired the event in 2004, so Dean had to pick a woman this year. But he said it was his decision to choose all women for the co-chair slots.

“It was kind of fun to be able to pick four extraordinary women,” Dean said.

The opportunity to put women in the spotlight was an important one, as the convention is viewed as the final step in the healing process for the party after the protracted primary fight between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Dean said the decision to place Clinton’s name in nomination as a symbolic gesture is no different from past protocol, citing the fact that then-Sen. Gary Hart’s (D-Colo.) name was put in the roll-call vote at the 1984 convention and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was placed there in 2004.

“Virtually every time there is a contest, somebody besides the nominee gets placed in nomination,” Dean said, dismissing the suggestion that the exercise might serve to aggravate instead of mend the wounds of Clinton supporters.

“It’s what they say that matters,” he added. “She always says the right thing and is incredibly helpful. And I think this is another opportunity for her to be incredibly helpful.”

Meanwhile, choosing Denver as the event’s host city weaves nicely into the Obama campaign’s narrative about putting states previously uncontested by Democrats into play and allows Dean another opportunity to tout the 50-state strategy he has championed since taking the helm of the DNC in 2005.

The Mountain West is a key region Democrats are targeting in the effort to make inroads in traditionally Republican territory. Roughly a dozen House and Senate seats are competitive in the area.

Before arriving in Denver over the weekend, Dean campaigned in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as part of a bus tour. In New Mexico he was joined by the wife of Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who is running for Senate.

The party has already reaped some benefit from the 50-state effort — in 2007 Democrats won control of the state Senates in Mississippi and Virginia — and Dean predicted Obama’s efforts will boost future Democratic gains.

“What I think we see now is a candidate who believes in the 50-state strategy, which is terrific, and understands that if you can’t expand the electoral map it kind of limits your opportunity to be a national party,” Dean said.

The Obama campaign is seeking to register hundreds of thousands of new voters and has opened a dozen field offices in states like Nevada and twice that many in Virginia.

“We’re going to end up with all that data and all that infrastructure after this is over,” Dean said. “And it’s going to help Congressional candidates and Senatorial candidates. It’s going to help governors. I mean, in 2010, what this campaign is going to do for the electoral map all over the country is extraordinary.”

Still, while Denver may be an important geographic symbol, the locale has come with more than a normal share of problems.

The city fell nearly $12 million short of the more than $40 million that it pledged to cover its share of fundraising costs. Additionally, for a party who pays particularly close attention to union issues, they chose a state unfriendly to organized labor.

Dean said he has no regrets about picking Denver as the convention site, despite the logistical headaches. Denver last hosted a presidential convention in 1908, when Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan.

When you try new things, Dean said, unexpected things are going to happen. Plus the venue gives him, and the party, yet another opportunity to hammer home the message of change.

“You cannot go back and just do the things that you’ve always done, especially if you lose,” Dean said. “It was time to try something different and get out of our core base area and go into places that we haven’t been for a long time. I’m very pleased with Denver.”