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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Future of the “Fifty-State Strategy”

In a small but significant development that virtually no one would notice without the blogosphere, Chris Bowers is drawing attention to impending layoffs by the Democratic National Committee of 200 state-embedded field operatives. These operatives are the beating heart of Howard Dean’s famous 50-state-strategy. You can read Chris’ post yourself, but it seems the DNC assumed all along that the field staff would be terminated immediately after the election. And ironically, Chris’ contact at the DNC hastened to reassure him that they were trying to get the embeds jobs in Washington, as though the whole program were nothing more than a DC internship network.
That’s a distressing throwback to the past habit of thinking of state party organizations as nothing more than adjuncts to campaign organizations. Anyone who’s worked with state parties over the years, especially in smaller and/or “red” states, probably shares my impression that they were largely either completely moribund, or served as dumping-grounds for incompetent castoffs from specific campaigns or even from state governments. The idea of the 50-state-strategy, or so I thought, was to encourage steadier year-in-year-out state party infrastructures, staffed by professionals with a particular expertise in field organizing. You’d think this program should have represented a small down payment on a bigger investment in state parties, not a temporary experiment to be terminated the minute the votes were counted in this particular cycle.
I realize this issue is dwarfed in significance by the separate question of what happens to the large and well-trained Obama field organization. If that organization is ultimately folded into the DNC/state party apparatus, then the problem of state party infrastructure may be solved for the immediate future. But if it’s not, we may be back to square one.
In any event, it’s disappointing to see that Howard Dean’s signature initiative at the DNC may not outlast his personal tenure as chairman.

4 comments on “Future of the “Fifty-State Strategy”

  1. ducdebrabant on

    I can’t think of any man in America with whom the gap between his desserts and his reward is so wide. The American people owe him a huge debt of gratitude, but the way the Republicans vilified him in 2004 has made it possible for Democrats in Florida to vilify him for consequences of defying the (unanimously passed) party rules about primary dates. It has made it possible for people like Emmanuel and Schumer to vilify him in 2006 for carrying out a different set of priorities and not making himself their lackey. And now the Obama campaign officials want to gather unto themselves all credit for every political success everywhere. It’s bad enough that Dean is a prophet without honor in his own party, but a lot of dedicated (and probably not especially well-paid) people who have been preparing the ground and planting the seed are not being permitted to gather the harvest. What’s more, it looks as if the land is going to be left fallow now.

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  2. Bob Griendling on

    Democrats will never change: Form a circular firing squad.
    Perhaps Obama feels he can do it better, but firing all these folks two weeks after the election is foolish. They learned things that just might be valuable two years from now. But then I haven’t heard Obama say one word of thanks to Dean.
    Bob Griendling

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  3. ducdebrabant on

    This is very distressing, but Rahm Emmanuel hates Howard Dean and hated the 50 state strategy, preferring that every dime spent on grassroots party-building in off-years instead be hoarded for the DSCC and DHCC. The party apparatus will now be in the White House’s hands, and that will probably be that.

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  4. pam on

    This is indeed distressing news, what I feared and extremely short sighted. I seem to remember that the State chairs wanted this process to continue and wanted Dean to remain as the leader of the DNC (though I could be wrong). There has seemed to me to be a tension between the DCCC and the DNC. Frankly, as a non-insider to the workings the workings of the upper echelon of the Democratic Party, the existence of these two independent groups makes little sense. If we are to have a unified and ongoing strategy, there should be one direction. Also, I understand that the President is the “leader” of the party. But, I would feel more comfortable with a DNC that was more independent – one that had the good of the party as a whole as its primary concern. Candidates must have massive ego strength to run. And this strength can so easily become egocentrism. It occurs to me (and as a progressive I am somewhat appalled with myself) that I would like a professional, Democratic Party machine.

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