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Thursday, November 13, 2003


How Gephardt lost the Unions

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, November 13, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
I feel some sympathy for Gephardt. The man has a long record of tireless devotion to unions' causes - sometimes at the expense of the greater good, I might add (I am a firm believer in NAFTA). But his reaction to the endorsement of Dean by the SEIU-AFSCME betrays a tragic misunderstanding of what this election will be about. Gephardt expected loyalty. The unions expect to win.

Had Gephardt sewn up the endorsements, would it have helped him win the nomination? It's doubtful. He probably would have taken Iowa, but New Hampshire remains out of his reach. And Dean's campaign is a worthy opponent, so Gephardt's victory would not have been assured. But granting him the benefit of the doubt, suppose that the unions' endorsement let Gephardt become the anti-Dean, that the other candidates threw their support to him, and he bested Dean in the primaries.

Gephardt cannot win against Bush. Gephardt has not run the unifying campaign that Dean has. There are no Republicans for Gephardt. There aren't legoins of students and political newcomers testing the waters on his behalf. The passion that fuels Dean's base would dissipate - and while most would support Gephardt in the election, they would not campaign or organize with the same fervor, because they all believe as I do that Gephardt can't bring anything new to the table. Like Gore, Gephardt would run the standard big-party-establishment Democratic campaign and he would lose, because the foe has $200 MILLION DOLLARS and a conservative media infrastructure. Only Dean can counter that threat because of his broad appeal.

Granted expected an endorsement on the basis of loyalty. But the unions wanted a winner, and not to be taken for granted. The union endorsement was certainly his to lose:

Last December, at one of their first meetings, Stern asked Dean if there was any way he could help him, thinking he could open some union doors to the little-known candidate. "He said, 'Well you can endorse me,' which I thought was a pretty bold, first opening comment," Stern said. "And I said, 'Well, we're a little far away from that,' and he said, 'Well, if you endorse me, I'm going to be president.' "
The SEIU offered all the candidates the same resources: a list of their local leadership and a warning that the route to the endorsement began not in Stern's fifth-floor office on L Street NW but through the rank and file. "Everybody got the same advice," an SEIU official said. "Howard Dean took it to heart." No other candidate came close to Dean's outreach. "Shockingly" not close, Stern said.

It came down to this: Dean was the candidate who had the money, had the organization, and was willing to do the due diligence to court the rank and file. This was a bottoms-up nomination, not top-down, and that's been the theme of this campaign from the start.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.