The National Journal's subscription-only Hotline has a good piece on what Dean has accomplished. The sort of piece you won't see in the WaPo or other publications too busy pushing the "Dean is insane and ineffective" storyline.
With permission from the publication, here it is in whole:
DNC: Spreading The Word. And The Boots.
"Howard Dean has turned out to be the biggest surprise of the season. He's a good man. And he truly gets it." Those are the words of Charles Soechting, the TX Dem chair who when Dean announced his bid for DNC chair had Soechting grtting his teeth. At the time, the Texan worried that Dean didn't get the problems parties grappled with and certainly didn't possess the regional sympathy to figure out how to win elections in the South.
But now, closing in on Dean's 1st anniversary as DNC chair, Soechting has seen enough to convince him that Dean "knows what it to makes Texas truly competitive."
Veterans of Dem politics who work on state and local campaigns are eager to praise Dean. In part, that's because Dean has devoted the bulk of the DNC's staff, energy and time to fulfilling his chairman's campaign promise: to revitalize the Dem Party at the precinct level.
Dem strategists in DC often ask their colleagues: "What is Dean good for?" They moan that he's not raising as much as money as they expected or his surrogates promised; that he hasn't been Joe Trippi-like and revolutionized the party's small donor outreach; that he can't shut his liberal mouth. Dean's admirers have ready counter-arguments, but they've lacked something tangible to bat down the critics. But now, they say, the party's investment in states is beginning to pay off.
There are approximately 1,963 election precincts in WV. At the beginning of '05, the state Dem Party could only identify six with active Dem organizers. Twenty years ago, WV Dems abandoned their precinct-level party building operations. Part of the problem was parochial: precinct chairs didn't trust county chairs, who didn't trust the elites running the state party, who certainly didn't trust the effete liberals running the national party. The cycle of neglect desiccated what organization remained.
When Dean was running for chair, he took a keen interest in that state's tale of woe. And it was typical of what he saw in states across the country. So Dean promised state chairs: where the party had nothing, it would have something. The DNC would pay for organizers to spend four years in their states, training county chairs and precinct captains. In return for the paid staff, Dean would expect results -- larger voter files, more volunteers, higher vote totals. State chairs liked the message. Dems like Soechting, in TX, had complained for years that the national party saw them as ATMs and ignored them most of the time. Dean promised he'd repair the relationship between the party and its state affiliates. In large measure, he did. (Soecthing says today that the state party feels more connected to the DNC than ever before.)
Dean's defenders say he's making good on his pledge. The DNC has trained 136 new organizers and sent them to 30 states, and by the end of 3/06, party officials say every state's precinct training program will be up and running. In WV, the party now employs four full-time organizers. Recalcitrant county chairs are warming to their presence; one small county that had zero precinct captains in 2004 has twelve today.
"That may not seem like a huge step," says Parag Mehta, the DNC's director of training, "but in that party of West Virginia, where Democrats were afraid to put up yard signs for fear of being taunted, suddenly, there's a Democratic presence."
The rest is below the fold.
What's Dean Doing With My Money?
"Building the party's capacity," a favorite phrase of Dean and his staff, takes time, and results might not be visible for years. Fundraisers, in particular, like to see parties win elections, and many view the national committee as a vessel for money and message -- not for organization.
Dean based his chairman's candidacy on the opposite premise: cede the message propagation to the party's Cong. and state leaders, and use the national party's resources to birth more Dem precinct captains and seed victories years from now. Adds DNC exec. dir. Tom McMahon: "There's a lot of disinformation about this. Because it's a new way about doing something. Until you have the face-to-face conversations, you can't explain to them what you're doing." To Democrats concerned about money and allied with potential WH '08 candidates, McMahon says he tells them, "Our goal is: whoever the nominee is in 2008, we want them to be able to look at all fifty states and see where there best chances are, versus trying to make a snap decision based on limited information in many states six months before the election."
Dean's detractors say that spreading 130 employees across 40 states isn't the best use of the party's resources. And they complain he hasn't leveraged his Internet fundraising talent, that he has poor relationships with major donors, that he can't keep his foot out of his mouth. Some in his circle of advisers admit that DC has not tamed what one delicately termed as Dean's "independent streak," which has led him to pontificate (with specifics) on contentious policy matters, often angering elected officials. But another of Dean's close advisers, Steve McMahon, said: "He sometimes gets out there in front of people. More often than not, he's absolutely right." And aides to Dean say he recognizes the critical role that major donors play in financing the party's operations and that he has scheduled more personal meetings with them. He often brings along documents explaining his state-based efforts.
So far, the party elite has not paid close attention. There are signs, though, that when they do, they like what they see. NH Dem Chair Kathy Sullivan exudes enthusiasm when asked about her DNC contingent: "We now have 10 people working under the [party] banner, including the DNC organizers. We have never had this big a staff so far in advance of the election cycle." ND Rep. Earl Pomeroy told Dean to "shut up" after a radio interview where Dean seemed to pooh-pooh the idea of victory in Iraq. When Pomeroy called Dean to apologize, he said, according to a Dem briefed on the call, that what the DNC was doing in his state was making a difference. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) stopped by to greet Nevadans when they trained with Mehta. Even Sen. Ted Kennedy sat down with trainees from MA, ME and RI.
When Clay Middleton returned to SC after a year with a National Guard unit in Iraq, his former boss, Rep. James Clyburn (D), encouraged him to apply for a DNC organizing position. Middleton, 24, is already a rising star. SC's party had been unable to furnish a how-to guide for potential precinct captains; Middleton read dozens of them at the DNC in DC and then wrote one for his state.
The DNC says it sees measurable results in MS, too. For years, the state party had one full-time staffer. County chairs had little contact with one another and were only active right before elections. Less than six months into its effort, the Dems claim to have trained precinct captains in 20% of the state's 82 counties.
Getting The States On Board
Several states have yet to agree on a plan with the DNC. Others say they'd rather have the national party pay for non-staff infrastructure like computer systems. FL wants the DNC to pay for a voter file director. And there is also a bit of friction between the organizers and state-based interest groups. In OH, many labor union officials habituated to providing the field capacity for Dems are curious about what the organizers will do. The answer is: it depends on the state. Within weeks of Dean's election, Tom McMahon and DNC pol. dir. Pam Womack traveled to each state and territory and took stock. McMahon says they consulted with state party rep, elected officials, consultants who had worked in the state, activists and key interest group leaders.
The DNC then asked state parties to draw up a plan. The DNC haggled; the states haggled back. Many wanted full-time communications directors; the DNC coughed up money for 23 of them. After agreements were signed, states hired the staff, and sent them to Mehta, a soft-spoken 29-year-old from Texas, for training. For two days, Mehta leads his charges through the basics of organizing: How they build precinct organizing programs. How press and communications work best. How the party targets particular voters. What the laws are. How to raise money. How to decipher voter files. How to canvass. How to run phone banks. They get a personal visit from Dean (he's an incurable gossip in private, one trainee noted to his delight] -- and they meet the party's regional political directors -- the men and women who will make sure they meet their targets back in the states. The organizers themselves are diverse. Rita Royals, a 56-year-old former rape crisis counselor, plies the rural counties in Northern Mississippi. She describes her training as intense - but "wonderful."
Royals: "I guess because I'm from the South, I wasn't quite used to the pace. We had five minute breaks." When staffers like Royals return home, the organizers work with county chairs -- or work with state executive committees to find chairs to fill counties without them. The organizers and county chairs recruit precinct captains. The precinct captains are given specific targets: find 25 volunteers by 11/06 -- say -- and assign them specific tasks within the precinct. Some county chairs are at first reluctant to open their doors to the organizers.
That's usually when Middleton shows them his new precinct manual. He promises to attend their county executive committee meetings. He helps them to raise money and to recruit volunteers and candidates." Mehta is constantly on the road, tweaking the system and rah-rahing the troops. "We train them and we train them repeatedly," he says of his organizers. "This is stage one." Stage two is to help the state party conceive the 2006 coordinated campaign plans. Stage three is to test those plans; stage four is to refine them and help draft county-by-county plans for the 2008 general elections. By 2008, he hopes the party will have volunteers in all 203,000 American voting precincts (Hotline reporting, 1/5).