After the Feb. 17 Wisconsin Democratic primary, a candidate who didn’t win took it as a success, and the candidate who did win was already on to the next state. That pretty much sums up the two remaining contenders, John Kerry and John Edwards. But perhaps the most significant result of Wisconsin was the overdue exit of the man who defined this campaign right from its start.
That would be Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. He finally packed it in following Wisconsin after losing all 17 primaries and caucuses to this point. Though his active campaign is over, Dean leaves a legacy on both the remaining candidates and future campaigns for years to come.
For one, Dean proved that a little-known governor of a small state can dramatically find himself at the top of polls and the top of scrutiny in a presidential race. Dean did it the only way he could, by running an outsider campaign against the Washington establishment.
His influence on the Democratic race, and thus Kerry and Edwards, is unmistakable. Dean was the only candidate to quickly stand up in opposition to the Iraq war last year. He made this the clear signature issue of his campaign, and his attacks on the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq issue were unrelenting.
Dean also immediately opposed all of the Bush tax cuts, especially the ones for the richest Americans. Early on, he promised to repeal all of them if elected and put the money into health insurance for all Americans. Only after Dean started speaking out did guys like Kerry, Edwards, and Dick Gephardt start increasing the rhetoric against President Bush.
I continue to believe that the beginning of Dean’s end came with the capture of Saddam Hussein on Dec. 14. He had premised his entire campaign on the idea that going into Iraq was wrong, and now here we had the bearded dictator in a spider hole. Dean only made his problems worse by foolishly declaring that we are not any safer with Saddam in custody.
And so it went. The gaffes just kept piling up, aided by the establishment Democrats and media absolutely terrified by the prospect of an outsider doing so well. Video surfaced of Dean trashing the Iowa caucuses four years ago. He told an Iowan to sit down and shut up at a forum. And all doubts about his temperament were solidified by his rallying cry of a concession speech after his Iowa loss. That was the nail in the coffin.
However, Dean will live on. His issues are still at the heart of an ever-escalating debate between Kerry and the Bush camp.
Without a doubt, Dean appealed to young voters, the most anti-Bush, and some of the most liberal Democrats out there. His message certainly resonated among that minority of the population. Even if the message itself never resonates with a majority of America, the impact of Howard Dean, the candidate, will be felt for a long time.