Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama

By Daniel Kreiss | Go to book overview

3
Dean’s Demise and Taking on Bush

On a warm August night, Howard Dean, unlikely front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, bounded onto a stage with a graffiti backdrop in Bryant Park in New York. The candidate carried a red inflatable baseball bat. In the midst of a drive to raise one million dollars before the governor’s appearance, a comment on the campaign’s blog suggested that, in recognition of their achievement, Dean carry the bat, a reference to the online graphic that showed donors the progress toward the fund-raising goal. For Trippi, the campaign’s Internet staffers, and supporters around the country, the bat was a symbol of Dean’s extraordinary rise through the collaborative efforts of thousands of supporters. Ten thousand people turned out in Bryant Park, the last stop on Dean’s Sleepless Summer Tour. The whirlwind four-day trip was a great success for the campaign, resulting in over one million dollars in donations, lots of press attention during a slow time of year, and impressive crowds a half a year before any voting took place. The candidate drew 900 in Spokane, Washington, 4,000 in Chicago, Illinois, and 4,000 in Falls Church, Virginia—over 40,000 people in all. Outside these rallies, volunteers and staffers sat huddled over laptops, taking down the e-mail addresses of supporters and uncommitted alike, building an e-mail list that grew to 650,000 by the end of the campaign.

This chapter focuses on Dean’s evolving organization and technical systems from this high point of the campaign to the disaster of the Iowa caucuses. Dean’s networked tools continued to power the new front-runner’s campaign, albeit through much hard work by staffers who kept their patchwork of systems up and running. While much scholarship tends to provide accounts of technologies being ready-to-hand for campaigns, in the process suggesting that technical systems are far more stable, comprehensive, and planned than they are, this chapter reveals a markedly different picture. Dean’s staffers developed and implemented much of the campaign’s technical and data systems quickly and without formal planning, given the unanticipated scale of a campaign that quickly broke fund-raising records. As a result, early choices—made within severe resource and time constraints—affected later ones, but not in a deterministic way. Modifications,

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