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November 22, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Dean: From ‘Scream’ to nearly realizing 50-state dream

I recall it quite vividly, the bosses all huddled around a computer screen, this being the early days of Internet video, as Howard Dean let out his now infamous scream.

I was an intern at a newspaper in Seattle in 2004, and a bunch of middle-aged white dudes were all laughing at this geeky Vermont doctor who had the temerity to think he could play in the big leagues.

What a loser.

Dean stopped by a Democratic field office in Henderson last week, and to prep myself for the visit, I watched what’s known in political circles as

“The Scream.” It’s still funny.

But here’s the thing: Dean was right.

His hypothesis was simple: To be a national political party, you have to compete everywhere. It was called the “50 state strategy,” and it was unveiled in 2005.

Remember 2005?

That’s when Karl Rove was building a permanent Republican majority, and when President George W. Bush was going to save Social Security by privatizing it.

In 2005, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, campaigned among grass-roots activists to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Campaigned to be head of the DNC? That’s an establishment job, hand-picked.

Howard Dean? What a loser.

But politics is all about a little prescience and a little luck. Dean had both. He had the wisdom to know Democrats could win in a lot of places if they bothered to show up and make an argument. The lucky part: The public has turned on the Republican Party.

The irony is that Dean’s model was former Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay, the hard-core conservative Houston exterminator who ran Congress for nearly a decade.

Delay understood that his narrow majority would slip away if he didn’t support his moderates in the liberal enclaves of the country, in the Midwest, Northeast and Northwest.

Delay understood that his career was all but finished unless Republicans could compete in what Republicans now derisively call “anti-American” parts of the country.

Howard Dean’s wisdom, which seems sort of obvious now, was that Democrats had to compete in traditionally “pro-American” parts of the country, in the South and Mountain West.

Democrats have let their candidates — even encouraged them — to come out against gun control and abortion.

That means Heath Shuler in North Carolina and a bunch of other moderates in red states have become an important part of the Democratic majority.

It also means winning in places such as Southern Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, which is now home to a 30,000-voter majority for Democrats.

Rep. Jon Porter, a Republican, has a solid grip on what’s happening around him, as evidenced during his reelection campaign against state Sen. Dina Titus. He’s galloped to the left since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006. He’s raised money, and spent it wisely, making the election as much a referendum on Titus as a referendum on his own record.

Dean, who wears an ill-fitting suit I’m pretty sure I’ve seen at Target, also wears a smart smirk, the look of a guy who knows more than he lets on, and more than anyone gives him credit for.

He’s usually associated with the loony wing of the party, the MoveOn crowd and the liberal bloggers. But in reality, he had a vision for Democrats capturing the center, and it’s coming to pass.

Republicans better find themselves a Howard Dean, and fast.

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