Dean: Hillary Clinton's 50-state strategy reflects determination to reach out to all voters
Thinking across traditional geographical and partisan lines will define 2016 race, he says
Editor’s Note: Howard Dean is a former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He is supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
Most presidential campaigns follow the same playbook. Candidates parse the map into red states, blue states and so-called “swing states”—and they focus their time and resources exclusively on that third category.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is rejecting that strategy in favor of a much broader one. The plan that Clinton began to execute this week is a 20-year strategy to create a new vision for America. To fulfill it, she is dispatching staff to all 50 states and is working to identify and organize supporters in each one.
There are a lot of reasons why adopting a 50-state strategy is both the right thing and the smart thing for Clinton to do. For one, voters deserve it. When candidates write off entire states or regions for being too blue or too red, they also write off the people who call those places home.
Instead of retreating behind battle lines drawn by pundits and pollsters, Clinton is aiming to rewrite the electoral map entirely. She recognizes that you can’t win if you don’t play – and that, in a year when Donald Trump is on the ticket, anything is possible.
Clinton wants Democrats in Republican strongholds to know that she’ll be their president too, and she wants Republicans across the country to know that staying home isn’t their only alternative to voting for Trump.
What’s more, she has promised to be a president who will get things done – and she knows that’s going to require a lot of help. One way of getting that help is to begin to appeal to Republican voters who feel abandoned by their own party.
Over the past eight years, we’ve seen that a Democratic president can’t achieve a progressive vision for America alone. We’ve also seen the power of state legislatures to turn back the clocks when it comes to issues like voting rights, LGBT rights and women’s reproductive rights.
On the same day Americans cast their vote for president this November, they’ll also be voting for senators, representatives, governors, state legislators and city council members. A 50-state strategy means that Democrats can focus attention and resources further down the ballot. We can’t forget that the outcomes of those local races matter too if we’re going to truly make a difference in people’s lives.
The good news is that while vulnerable Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from Trump’s disastrous and often revolting campaign, Clinton is quietly setting her supporters up for long-term success.
She understands that what happens between now and November is not just about 2016 or even 2020. If we really want a political revolution, we have to build it block by block—nurturing strong Democratic organizations in each of the 50 states.
That will take a lot more than four years to accomplish. But when I was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, my mantra came from Lao Tzu, who said that “the longest journey begins with a single step.”
So if Clinton’s plan sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same formula that enabled our party’s gains in 2006 and 2008. Every Democrat that she helps get elected to offices across the country this year, the deeper the bench will be for many elections to come. They will become the foundation of a potent legacy, not just for the party, but for a consequential presidency.
I know that plenty of talking heads are skeptical of any candidate’s ability to expand their party beyond traditional borders. And on those rare occasions when it does happen, it’s often dismissed as a fluke, or a stroke of good luck.
I disagree. The renowned scientist, Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” By building out local support and infrastructure in uncharted Democratic territories, we can be ready to seize opportunities that present themselves.
It wasn’t luck that led to electing a Democratic senator in Montana in 2006 (Jon Tester), in Alaska in 2008 (Mark Begich) and in Indiana in 2012 (Joe Donnelly). It was the foresight to recruit a quality candidate, to put strong field and communications plans in place and most importantly to decide not to write off entire states full of voters.
As it turned out, the only reason some of those voters hadn’t been with us before was because they hadn’t heard from us.
In her campaign, Clinton will show up everywhere and take no voter for granted. That’s why solidly red states like Georgia, Utah and Arizona already appear a few shades more purple. And as Donald Trump might say – she hasn’t even started on them yet. Even though we may not turn them blue this year, she’s taken the necessary steps to ensure they won’t stay red forever.
Pasteur was right; in politics, as in scientific innovation, chance does favor the prepared mind. And Hillary Clinton’s mind is nothing if not prepared.
Howard Dean is a former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He is supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The views expressed in this commentary are his.