Assessing Dean’s Legacy

Will Howard Dean’s Internet-driven candidacy win a place in history, or will it be relegated to asterisk status in the annals of American politics?

Correspondent Brian Faler, writing in today’s Washington Post, predicts the former, arguing that although the Web-rooted candidacy ultimately failed, it was more the fault of the candidate than the technology. Faler states the obvious: Dean’s success as an online fund-raiser can’t be ignored by the other candidates. (It hasn’t been. John Edwards raised over $300,000 on the Web the day after the Wisconsin primary.)

“[Dean] raised $41 million in 2003 — much of it online — eclipsing all his Democratic rivals and breaking former president Bill Clinton’s party record for money raised in a quarter,” notes Faler. He also points out that Dean broke new ground in political organizing, creating a variety of successful online tools, such as directories of supporters.

Slate’s Paul Boutin, also assessing the Dean online campaign, isn’t certain of its long-term impact. Boutin gives Dean an A+ for his use of the Internet to raise money.

But on the critical question of whether Deaniacs became voters, Boutin can’t find evidence. “[N]o one has yet come forward with hard research on how many of Dean’s online supporters actually went out and voted,” says Boutin. Nor has he seen any data about how many Dean supporters were first-time voters. And that, says Boutin, is the crucial unknown. The Dean campaign, he writes, “energized a demographic that normally snoozes through elections.”

Now, the Democrats have to figure out how best to get them to log off long enough to vote.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.