Howard Dean's campaign has come to be grudgingly admired in Washington political circles for its innovative use of the Internet: an ever-widening circle of interactive blogs, streaming video ("DeanTV"), downloadable posters and e-mail fund-raising solicitations. Campaign manager Joe Trippi predicts Dean will net as much as $15 million in donations this fiscal quarter and amass 900,000 supporters by January. But the focus on the Net, Dem insiders say, has obscured the shrewd moves the Dean campaign has been making in the more traditional, nondigital world of political gamesmanship. "These guys are as old-school as they are New Age," says an admiring veteran of the Clinton White House senior staff.
Observers point to several key moves. In one, Dean aides blocked a likely major endorsement of rival Dick Gephardt by convincing the Service Employees International Union that it should wait until the end of the month to act--at which point Dean can impress them with a massive lead in fund-raising. In another, Dean last week locked up the endorsement of the majority of the city council in Washington, D.C., where a nonbinding but early primary takes place in January. Dean was also the first Democratic presidential contender to campaign with beleaguered California Gov. Gray Davis--a move that could pay huge dividends if Davis pulls a surprise and survives the recall vote next month.
Perhaps the Dean campaign's biggest nondigital coup came late last week, when HBO premiered its new Washington-based show, "K Street," at the ultimate insider's watering hole, the Palm Restaurant. Central to the plot of the pilot: a debate-prep session for Dean. And wouldn't you know, the real-life Dean, in a real-life debate, used a line the show's writers had proposed for him. Nothing more Beltway than that.