Naked City

Dean Fires Up the Dems

The August heat was nowhere near as intense as the go-get-'em rhetoric as a slate of local candidates, headlined by erstwhile presidential hopeful Howard Dean, rallied a crowd of about 800 to quit complaining and start campaigning for their local down-ballot Democrats (oh yeah, and that John Kerry guy, too). The speeches were part of a two-day training seminar that drew about 400 participants from around the state to learn to run grassroots campaigns. "We're learning about what mobilizes voters, and how to understand things like persuasion indexes," said participant Jonathan Weldon. "It's a lot of the mathematical and scientific stuff as well as the basic 'knock on the door and wait three seconds' stuff."

The training was run by the national nonprofit 21st Century Democrats and underwritten by Democracy for America, the organization Dean launched from the ashes of his campaign. As such, many attendees were ex-Deaniacs (or, as one put it, "Deaniacs for Kerry"), and the crowd included at least as many February-vintage Dean signs as it did Kerry-Edwards ones. Participant Nick Lawrie, who credits the Dean campaign with transforming him from nonparticipant to budding politico (he now works for Democracy for Texas, which is loosely affiliated with Democracy for America), said this is appropriate for reasons beyond the governor's in-the-flesh appearance. "It's the whole Dean message," he said of the training. "You have the power. No excuses. Go out and do it."

The event emphasized mobilizing on behalf of local Democratic candidates, including County Court-at-Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten, district judge hopeful Steven Yelenosky, House District 48 nominee Kelly White, sheriff candidate Greg Hamilton, aspiring state Supreme Court justice David Van Os, and CD 10 write-in candidate Lorenzo Sadun, all of whom got their two minutes on the stump. It also included Travis Co. Constable Bruce Elfant – himself running for re-election – holding a mass oath-taking to mint about 70 new deputy registrars to help in the Democracy for Texas voter-registration drive. The attendees responded particularly enthusiastically to Richard Morrison, a political novice running in CD 22 against the bête noire of the day, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. "It's time to drive a stake through the heart of the beast, and the heart of the beast is Tom DeLay," said DFT head Glen Maxey, to gleeful cheers. Morrison, for his part, urged supporters to give up ice cream, beer, cigarettes, and naps until November so they will have money (the first three) and time (the last) to help out the candidate of their choice.

While many political insiders (and armchair observers) consider Morrison's candidacy a long shot, the enthusiasm he generated illustrates the central point of the 21st Century Democrats and DFT – that the battle that is the November election is only part of the larger war to turn Texas blue. "Our goal is to build an organization for the long term," said participant Ron Turner, who anticipates an uphill struggle applying the skills he learned in his overwhelmingly Republican hometown of Plano.

The long-haul message was reiterated by Dean, who spends his time these days stumping for about 1,000 progressive down-ballot candidates nationwide. "After November 2, everyone gets a month off. Then we all go back to work," he said.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Howard Dean, Democracy for Texas, Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats, Glen Maxey, Bruce Elfant, Richard Morrison, Tom DeLay

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