Howard Dean finally got beaned. The former Democratic front-runner’s announcement that he would be dropping out of the presidential race Feb. 18 brings an end to a campaign that revitalized his party.
Disappointing results in Wisconsin, Iowa and South Carolina forced Dean out of the race after a 30-day downhill slide that saw his fortunes steadily decline. The combination of dwindling funds, several high-profile faux pases (including the Scream Heard ‘Round the World) and an ill-advised campaign overhaul that brought in ex-Gore man Steve Grossman ultimately did Dean’s machine in.
Dean’s mistake was that his campaign managed to attract an enormously devoted support base of hardcore ideological liberals, students and activists. But Dean offered a message with little substance to it besides opposing the policies of George W. Bush: Debates and campaign literature offered an angry man whose views on Social Security and the economy were a blank slate to most Americans.
With Bush’s aura of invincibility fading in recent months among questions of his National Guard record (or lack thereof) and the continuing quagmire in Iraq, John Kerry was able to successfully co-opt Dean’s message and combine it with a more moderate, centrist platform that appealed to primary voters. This was a prime factor in Gen. Wesley Clark’s exit from the race several weeks back; Clark is now frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.
Ultimately, Dean benefited the Democratic Party through exactly the orneriness and media unfriendliness that made him such a poor showing in press conferences. By posing as the unreconstructed New Left candidate among a sea of corporate shills and wingnuts, he was able to steer the other candidates on the right track. As we come closer and closer to the summer and the Democratic National Convention, that can only be a good thing.