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© Sarah Pressman Lovinger 2018

  • sarahlovinger

Howard Dean, redux

I have always liked Governor Howard Dean, MD. Like me, he's a primary care doctor. As governor of Vermont, he was an authentic and 'straight-talking' politician whose run for the democratic presidential nomination in 2004 made people pay attention. He was doing well until he had a very mild public outburst during a 2004 debate, known as his 'scream'. I recently viewed a video of this unfortunate moment, and after three years of multiple daily offensive tweets from Trump, his so-called 'scream' amounts to absolutely nothing at all.


What I really like about Howard Dean, though, was the brilliant idea he developed and promoted as head of the Democratic National Committee following his unsuccessful bid for the presidential nomination: the Democrats' fifty-state strategy.


For decades Democrats focused on voters in reliably Democratic states--those we now call 'blue states.' They ignored typically conservative cities and states until Howard Dean came onto the national scene and convinced Democrats that they could persuade voters outside of typically liberal areas to vote for Democratic candidates. Obama embraced this philosophy brilliantly, and won not only the liberal bastions like New York and California, but also Iowa, Ohio, and even deep-red Indiana on Election Day in 2008.


Barack Obama and Lauren Underwood, circa 2008


Fast-forward to 2018 and the weekend before the most heated and energized mid-term election I can remember. I have canvassed in every presidential and mid-term election since 2004, traveling outside of my intensely liberal district just outside of Chicago to Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. I am now working to flip a GOP-held congressional seat 30 miles from Chicago--Il-14, held by tea-party GOP Randy Hultgren since 2010--and I have never experienced the level of activism and enthusiasm during a midterm election until now. I spent yesterday out in St Charles, IL, canvassing for Lauren Underwood, a smart and compassionate 32-year-old nurse and health care policy expert who grew up in the district, really connects with voters, and has been gaining momentum in the polls. Under cloudy skies and typically chilly fall weather, scores of volunteers streamed in and out of her campaign office all day yesterday, picking up and returning canvassing packets, finding a quiet spot in the hallway to make phone calls to voters, stopping for a selfie with Lauren when she arrived to fire up the room filled with canvassers and paid staff. Lauren is running in a district that Democrats pretty much ignored until now. After all, former GOP House Speaker Denny Hastert represented IL-14 in Congress for decades. But this strategy of taking on districts or states that have been represented by Republicans in DC but could be flipped to the Democrats may very well be working. Lauren has so changed the calculus in these exurbs that Former Vice President Joe Biden made the trek out to her district to hold a large rally for her on Halloween.


We won't know for at least another two days if Lauren Underwood can pull off this election upset--with the help of hundreds of committed volunteers, devoted staff, and the Democratic party fully behind her--but it's this sort of possible win that makes the fifty-state strategy the right one. Thank Gov Howard Dean, MD, for promoting this idea more than a decade ago. And if you have a free minute, watch his 'scream' again:

It's truly a #nothingburger.


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