The Nation has a great profile on Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy here
. The entire article is good, but here's the section that Liberals should pay close attention to in the coming months as we decide how to structure and rebuild the party:
As he prepares to step down as DNC chair in January, giving way to Obama's handpicked successor, Dean has cemented his legacy as a prophetic, if underappreciated, visionary in the party [see Berman, "The Dean Legacy," March 17]. When pundits saw the country hopelessly divided between red and blue--with the blue part of the map restricted to the West Coast, the Northeast and an increasingly embattled Midwest--Dean argued that the party had to compete everywhere. After the epic meltdown of his presidential campaign, punctuated by the endlessly looped "Dean scream" after the Iowa caucus, Dean took one of the most thankless jobs in Washington and turned it into a laboratory for one of the most exciting experiments in modern Democratic Party history. He radically devolved power away from Washington by cultivating a new generation of state political organizers and lending support (and money) to long-forgotten local parties, bucking the Beltway establishment and enabling grassroots activists. He rehabilitated his party, and his image, in the process. Dean's fifty-state strategy, as it came to be known, "fertilized the landscape" for Obama's fifty-state campaign, Brazile says. If his strategy is extended during the Obama administration, we'll find out what a true fifty-state party looks like.
At the 2004 Democratic convention, Dean, who was running Democracy for America, the grassroots organization he founded after his presidential bid, met with state chairs from around the country and heard all about their woes. "They were all talking to me about how hard it was to win governorships and Congressional seats and state legislative races because nobody would put any money in except in the presidential race," Dean recalls in an early December interview in his Washington office. He'd learned during the primary that year how much the party had atrophied organizationally, "lurching from one election to the next," slicing the electorate into narrower and narrower targets (remember Florida and Ohio?). The meeting with the state chairs confirmed his worst fears. "I realized we weren't a national party anymore," he says.
A few months later the state chairs asked Dean and the other contenders for DNC chair to give $200,000 a year to each state party. Dean enthusiastically embraced and enlarged the plan en route to easily winning the DNC race and gave every state the resources to hire at least three or four organizers and access to a high-tech database of voters, which became the twin cornerstones of the fifty-state strategy. Under Dean, battlegrounds like Ohio still took priority, but every state got something. That might not sound like much, but it was practically a revolution within the Democratic Party, which tended to view the DNC as a PR agency and ATM for Congress and/or the White House. "We had a great building and no debt," Dean says, referring to the work of his predecessor, the high-flying Clintonite Terry McAuliffe. "But there was essentially no technological infrastructure and no political infrastructure of any worth." The states, by and large, had been left to fend for themselves.
Indiana is a good example. When Dan Parker became chair of the state party in November 2004, his first order was to slash his staff in half after Democrats lost the governor's mansion. Indiana, like so many states, had been written off by the national party--the last Democratic presidential contender to carry it was Lyndon Johnson. But Dean gave Parker the money to hire three field organizers and a full-time communications director, the first the state had ever had. (When Dean came in, thirty states had no such important position.) In 2006 that staff worked on three competitive Congressional races long before the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) arrived. The party picked up all three seats that year and elected a record number of Democratic mayors in 2007. By the time the Democratic primary rolled around this past May, Hoosier Dems had been revitalized, and Obama--to the surprise of many--invested heavily in the state, visiting forty-nine times. On November 4 Obama won Indiana--a state John Kerry lost by twenty points--by 26,000 votes. "We're a poster child for the fifty-state strategy," Parker says.