Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Grassroots in the Heartland

Ohio would be a plum pick-up for any Dem. Not as tough as Indiana, but I think it is safe to say that if the Dem candidate takes it, election night is over.

At least one guy in Ohio likes what he sees in Clark's grassroots support:

Obscured by the media's premature coronation of Howard Dean as the Democrats' presidential nominee, and the local interest in the quirky candidacy of Dennis Kucinich is the remarkable rise of retired General Wesley Clark as a force to be reckoned with in the March 2 Ohio Democratic Presidential Primary.

At last week's delegate caucuses held all around Ohio, the number of Clark supporters who showed up nearly matched the number who represented Howard Dean, according to Greg Haas, longtime Ohio campaign strategist and current political director for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. In Haas' view, what makes this achievement truly stunning is that Dean has been campaigning for more than a year and many of his supporters were bussed in by unions and paid, while Clark has only been in the race since late September and won't even have an officially funded campaign in Ohio until early February.

At the 10th District's caucus in Middleburg Heights last week, I saw many familiar faces — union officials, veteran activists and a smattering of officeholders — in the general meeting room, but once the main group broke into individual candidate caucuses, the 50 or so people who headed into the Clark room were almost entirely individuals whom I had never seen and who had never before participated in a caucus. And of the 18 folks who vied for delegate positions, only two had ever done so before. One by one — a Vietnam vet, a schoolteacher, a small business owner, a high school student, a young working mom — they made their short speeches about how they were inspired enough by Clark to find their way to meet-ups and house parties and finally to commit themselves to an active role in supporting him.

Much has been made of the contention that Howard Dean has brought all kinds of brand new people into the electoral process, but a survey of his early supporters done last November indicated that 80 percent of them were Democratic party members who always vote, have a yearly income of more than $70,000 and who classify themselves as anti-war liberals. Over the past two months, of course, Dean has picked up several endorsements from established politicians and big service unions, the kind of individuals and groups who glom onto apparent frontrunners seeking both the spotlight and some spoils. These are hardly new faces.

Contrast Dean's big-money, big-name, big-special-interests campaign to the true grassroots efforts of the Clark people. First of all, the move to draft Clark into the race didn't even get off the ground until just this past summer. In July, the first small groups of Draft Clark got together to support each other and began to tap into a national computer network that ultimately was able to pledge enough money and generate enough nationwide enthusiasm to convince Clark to finally declare his candidacy in September. Since then, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and his band of grassroots insurgents have had a lot of catching up to do. And based on the number of committed foot soldiers, money raised and polling figures, they've done an incredible job of getting in position to challenge for the nomination.

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