After nearly everyone had written him off, John Kerry turned a limping campaign into a force that couldn't be beat. Here's How
"Dated Dean, Married Kerry," the bumper stickers in Iowa read, and for many it was true. Dean had excited them, energized them, made them believe it was possible to beat Bush. But once they thought it was possible, they started wondering whether Dean was the best vehicle for their hopes, whether he was truly presidential. Dean's Iowa director, Jeani Murray, said: "We did a focus group in August that said if the message moves from change to electability, Kerry was going to win in Iowa."
Which he did. But what happened to all those Dean voters identified as Ones, the voters who would vote for Dean without fail? The most likely explanation is that thousands of them never really existed, thousands did not show up at the caucuses, and thousands showed up and voted for someone else. "Would we have done better with a better organization?" Mike Ford asked. "Yes. But we wouldn't have won. What you want in a campaign is people feeling increasingly better about your candidate so you top out at the end. In our case, the better the voters knew Dean, the less they liked him. Organization could not have saved this one."
That is the opinion, of course, of someone who was partly responsible for the organization. Others have a different point of view. "This was a campaign that ill-served its candidate," one top Dean aide said. "We let him down." Some of Dean's former aides say Dean remained a powerful and appealing candidate to the end but was doomed by an organization without, in the words of Tom Harkin, "any structural integrity." Then there are those who say, yes, the campaign was awful, but it was awful because of the "insurgent/empowerment" philosophy that Dean and Trippi stubbornly clung to, even at the expense of building an efficient campaign organization. "We were supposed to be insurgents, outsiders, free-form," Ochs said. "Experience was seen somehow as a negative. It was hubris, the hubris of believing that anything new and different was good. Mundane, traditional campaign tasks were not valued. The campaign often operated in a head-scratching, mind-numbingly ridiculous manner."
While losing campaigns are rarely as bad as they look and winning campaigns are rarely as good, there were dramatic differences between the Dean and Kerry campaigns in Iowa: The Kerry campaign acted decisively and sent an Iowa expert to Iowa when things looked bad, something Dean wanted to do by sending Joe Trippi but could not manage. The Kerry campaign coordinated the needs of Iowa with the candidate's message and appearances, which the Dean campaign often could not manage. And the Dean campaign was obsessed with its political philosophy and Internet movement, while the Kerry campaign was obsessed only with making John Kerry the Democratic nominee. Kerry won Iowa and Dean lost, and that was the whole campaign. Democrats wanted a standard-bearer, one who could beat George W. Bush, and they wanted him fast. And once they had a true front-runner, one who had actually won a state, they were going to stick with him.