Howard Dean: 'This Is Just a Firestorm'
U.S. News sat down this week with Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chair and former presidential hopeful, to discuss the Mark Foley scandal, Dean's controversial strategy to put up serious Democratic candidates in all 50 states, and his expectations for the 2006 (and 2008) elections.
On Rep. Mark Foley
For those who have known what this group of Republicans is about, it's not a surprise that this should happen. They've put the interests of their party ahead of the interests of America and they've done it for six years.. We're staying away from it, to be honest with you. I don't want this to be seen as partisan. We'll do gentle reminders, of course, and people will use it in their ads, but you know, I think that this is just a firestorm. I had airport mechanics talking to me about it on the road. I mean, when that starts to happen, you know this is an issue that matters a lot.
On calls for Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign
I'm not going to say somebody should resign or something like that. But I will say this: [Rep.] Ray LaHood [an Illinois Republican] says they should get rid of the page program. They should not get rid of the page program. They should get rid of the people who run the page program, and that's the Republican leadership. In the past, when things like this happened, they acted in unison in a bipartisan way to deal with it. Here they keep [Rep.] Dale Kildee [a Michigan Democrat] in the dark; they never even told the Democrats who were supervising the page program about this. They didn't let our side of the aisle know. Why? Because, they considered this a political problem. This is not a political problem. This is a human problem, and it should have been dealt with a year ago.
On allocating money to campaigns
One of our problems is that the races keep expanding. By this time, you're usually narrowing the number of races and pulling funding away from people who can't win. We've got people who were not on the radar of either the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] or the [Republican National Congressional Committee] and they have a chance.
On the Senate
Originally there were three or four defensive races, and now we're probably going to win three of them, and I'm not going to tell you which ones because you can figure it out for yourselves. We probably only have one incumbent in a Democratic seat that's really in jeopardy.
On predictions for 2006
I'm not going to make any predictions. The last time I made a prediction, it was in 1980, and I said, "God, thank heavens Ronald Reagan got the nomination." Everything surprises me about the cycle so far. If I had asked you 12 months ago or even six months ago, what are the reasonable possibilities that the Democrats would take back the House and the Senate and pick up four, five, or six governorships, I think we all would have thought that Howard Dean was spouting the party line and it was all bull----. And the truth is that that's a reasonable possibility right now.
On his biggest concern about the upcoming election
What worries me the most is that [Republicans are] willing to say anything and they're willing to repeat anything whether it's true or not. They did it in order to invade Iraq and they'll do it in order to win elections. And I have some worry about the voting machines. We know that the [direct recording electronic voting machines] don't work right, the electronic voting machines that don't have a paper trail. We know they're corruptible by accident or on purpose, and it's a major concern.
On his 50-state strategy
I think partly due to Republican propaganda and partly due to the fact that we haven't shown up in those places in 20 years, people have a completely skewed view of what Democrats are about, and that's why I want to be in all 50 states. This is not a matter of remaking the party and changing our views on these things. It's a matter of making sure people know what our views really are. And saying it in a way that people understand that we're listening to them first and we understand what they're doing instead of being so anxious to spout off about our policy programs. Six-point plans are not the same things as a message, and I think that's something that Democrats have to learn. We can win elections anywhere. We've won elections in Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi. We've won four out of four special elections for the House in Mississippi, the mayorship in Mobile, Ala., the mayorship in Tulsa, Okla., the mayorship in Salt Lake County, Utah. There's a third of this country in which it's become socially unacceptable to say you're a Democrat; that's simply a matter of us not showing up.
On an agenda if Democrats take the House or Senate
[I would] have a very narrow-based agenda that's very clear to the American people [and] that creates our agenda for the presidential electionminimum wage, ethics reform, healthcare reform that makes large steps toward a comprehensive plan. We almost certainly won't get it right away because President Bush would never sign such a thing, but enough so that we think Bush can either sign it or it's clear to Americans what he's done by not signing it, especially for young people.
On impeaching President Bush
Our primary agenda is not to impeach Bush. Our primary agenda is to move the country in a new direction that's a positive direction and gets us away from six years of negative power politics that Republicans have inflicted on us. [We] clearly have to find some common ground with Bush in order to get something done for American families.
On the revised primary schedule
I think it's going to be very good for the Democrats. [In the 2004 election, John] Kerry basically won in Iowa and was done. And poor John Edwards lost by 3 points and he won one primary, and Wes Clark won one, and I won one, and that was it. That was it. He won everything else; he just swept the table in the face of one 3-point victory. That won't happen again. And the electorate that votes, that you have to campaign in front of, is going to look much more like America than it has in the past. You're going to have westerners for the first time, you're going to have southerners for the first time, African-Americans and Hispanics with significant influence.
On the 2008 Republican nominee
I actually think whoever is going to win it , they'll either move to the right, which is going to be the end of their status as an authentic person, or they'll be from the right, which will make it harder for them to win. One of the legacies of George Bush, among many ones that aren't so great for the country, is one that's not so great for the Republican Party. He ran as a moderate, and nobody's going to buy that the second time around. I think John McCain is going to run a good campaign, but you know as well as I do that anything can happen. I would have bet six weeks ago that George Allen might be the one.