The Dean for America HQ in South Burlington, Vermont, was Ground Zero Monday in the world of American presidential politics. It was the last day of the second quarter, and presidential hopefuls were in a horse race to rake in as much dough as possible before the clock struck midnight.
Since Gov. Howard Dean's controversial appearance on "Meet the Press" with Tenacious Tim Russert, millions of dollars have been pouring into Dean's campaign war chest via the Internet.
A couple weeks ago, campaign manager Joltin' Joe Trippi was predicting Dean might take in $4.5 million by the end of June. But then something quite incredible happened -- Ho-Ho caught lightning in a bottle.
While the chattering pundit class in the incestuous world of Foggy Bottom unanimously panned Dean's performance on "Meet the Press," thousands of regular folks outside the Beltway were smitten by Ho-Ho's honesty and frankness as he weathered Russert's over-the-top attempt to be the Great American Deanslayer.
All of a sudden, the financial floodgates opened and thousands of small donations in the $25 to $100 range rushed in.
Dean's kickoff speech the next day jacked up interest in the little guy from Vermont even more. And his landslide victory in the MoveOn.org presidential primary later in the week energized a new political base that's all 21st century, all online, and desperate for a leader who will take on George W. Bush and the corrupt regime that has hijacked our democracy.
By Monday, Trippi's earlier prediction had been easily leapfrogged. The Dean campaign reported contributions exceeding $6 million Monday morning; $7 million was the target for the midnight hour.
Monday afternoon, Dean HQ had the hustle and bustle of Grand Central at rush hour. But everyone paused to watch CNN's "Inside Politics" at 4 p.m. Ho-Ho's fundraising phenomenon was the top story of the day.
"Every campaign aide I spoke with today," announced the CNN reporter, "said they were watching Dean's Internet Web site [http://blog.deanforamerica. com]."
A cheer erupted simultaneously from the packs of young Deaniacs huddled around a half-dozen tiny TV screens spread throughout the maze of offices and cubicles.
"It's really sort of a history-making day in presidential politics," said Dean's smiling deputy campaign manager Bob Rogan.
"We are about to formally enter the top tier of presidential candidates," said Rockin' Rogan, "and we are also going to raise more money on the Internet than any campaign in the history of the Internet. This is the beginning of rewriting the book on how presidential campaigns operate in this country."
Monday's campaign windfall was an Internet version of the Jerry Lewis telethons of yesteryear. The Dean Web site tracked the contributions on a 30-minute basis. A giant baseball bat was the onscreen thermometer. We contacted a couple Dean donors.
Julie Lewis, 50, of Silver Springs, Maryland, is an advertising sales rep who made a $100 donation to Howard Dean's campaign Monday.
"I was at work getting nothing done," said Lewis, "watching the Dean Blog."
Lewis told Seven Days she had never before made a financial contribution to a political campaign. Asked what attracted her to Dean, she replied, "His honesty. Here's a guy who doesn't pull his punches."
Lewis suggested the Dean campaign take a look at the fundraising technique of Public Broadcasting stations and devise a method that would automatically allow working people to make regular small, monthly donations via credit card in the range of $5 to $10. "It adds up," said Lewis.
Not a bad idea. Are you listening, Mr. Trippi?
Also following the Dean blog Monday was Amy Southerland, a 37-year-old freelance writer from Kansas City who recently moved to Washington, D.C.
Southerland told Seven Days she is "not a highly political beast." She said she first noticed Howard Dean about two months ago and then learned more about him during the MoveOn.org online primary.
Southerland also watched Ho-Ho's recent appearance on "Meet the Press" and thought he was "terrific." The fact that Dean didn't offer an answer for every question Russert fired at him impressed her, she said.
"One of the most honest things a person can do," she said, "is admit they don't know the answer."
That's what Ho-Ho did when Russert asked him how many troops comprise the U.S. Armed Forces. Dean said he didn't know the exact number, but believed it was between one and two million. It's actually 1.4 million.
"I want to trust whoever runs the country," said Southerland, "and I don't trust George W. Bush."
Southerland said she's attracted by Dean's "intelligence" and the fact that he's an "analytical thinker who sees the big picture." She sent Candidate Dean $25 Monday. It was all she could afford.
Folks, people like Lewis and Southerland are the people who are going to put Howard Dean in the White House. That's why keeping him healthy is so important.
It's no surprise that a source at the Dean Campaign tells us the candidate has received death threats. Perfectly understandable. It's America. It's a price of fame. Add politics to the mix and you have a combustible material. And lately Dean's been attracting larger and larger crowds.
The other night more than 2000 people gathered on the Plaza in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico, to see and hear Howard Dean. After the speech, we're told, Dean was "mobbed" by a crowd of enthusiastic well-wishers as he tried to get to the car. There wasn't a Secret Service agent in sight.
According to Secret Service spokesman Marc Connolly, the determination of when a candidate for the presidency gets Secret Service protection is made by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Currently that's Tom Ridge.
Agent Connolly told Seven Days that the Secretary "consults with an advisory committee composed of the Senate majority and minority leaders, the Speaker of the House, the House minority leader and one additional member selected by the committee."
No candidate is required by law to accept Secret Service protection, said Connolly. The committee determines if a candidate qualifies based on guidelines that include "how many primaries the candidate has entered, whether he/she belongs to a party that has received more than 10 percent of the vote, and whether the candidate qualifies for matching funds."
A candidate, said Connolly, must request protection.
Asked if the existence of death threats would spur the advisory committee to act, Connolly replied, "No comment."
However, said the agent, "other factors could be taken into consideration."
Inside Track to Howard Dean: Call Tom Ridge.
Speaking of Assassins -- So far no one has taken as many head shots at Howard Dean as University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson. As we've reported in this space earlier, Garrison despises Howard Dean, always has and always will. We suggest it's all about ego -- Nelson's, not Dean's.
There's two kinds of people in this work: Those who have tenure and those who live in the real world. Most of us need oxygen to survive. Professor Nelson needs to see himself quoted in the news on a regular basis to survive. Anyone who knows Garrison knows only too well that all conversations begin with a listing of his latest print appearances.
In the Los Angeles Times, Nelson called Dean a "twerp."
On the BBC a couple weeks back, Nelson declared Dean "is not a very reflective person. He's quite reactive. This is what gets him in trouble because he has a short fuse."
And in a recent Boston Globe hatchet job, Garrison said, "Howard's a pop-off. I've been the target of his pop-offs, too."
When we asked Professor Pop-Off what evidence he had to back up his declaration of victimhood, he informed us that "a few years ago at the Statehouse" Gov. Dean "waved his finger at me and said, 'Get your facts straight.'"
Later, Professor Pop-Off added that once at his weekly press conference Gov. Dean had described him as "the world's worst political prognosticator."
Of course, there's plenty of evidence to suggest Dean may be right on that one. Take the recent election as an example. Last year, in a column in The Burlington Free Press, Garrison predicted that Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Douglas was going to have a rough time because he would not be getting support from the national party.
"Ultimately, Jim Douglas is not one of them," Nelson was quoted as saying. "He's not going to get the full-bore support that Ruth Dwyer got."
As it turned out, Douglas raked in most of his war chest -- $660,000 -- from the Republican Party and won the race.
National media, be forewarned. For reasons purely personal and self-serving, Professor Nelson is out to poison the Dean well. When it comes to Ho-Ho, Garrison's gyroscope is completely out of whack.
Local Coverage? -- The Dean Campaign's amazing second-quarter financial windfall -- $7,126,759 -- was front-page news in the Washington Post Tuesday, but not in Ho-Ho's hometown paper. The Freeps buried a tiny wire report on the Dean Internet bonanza inside. There's "news judgment" for you, eh?
You'd think Vermont's largest daily might assign one reporter to the top political story in the nation, given the local angle?
Unlike Gannett's Burlington shop, the Gannett-owned Des Moines Register has taken Vermont's Howard Dean seriously for quite some time. Register political reporter Tom Beaumont even made the trip to Burlap for last week's big campaign kickoff speech.
Instead, led by its new editorial page editor from Kansas, David Awbrey, our local daily is obsessing over a new multi-modal bus station that's been in the works for a decade.
Hey, David, take a pill.
Speaking of Editorials -- Has anybody noticed the turnaround by The Burlington Free Press editorial page on the proposed Circumferential Highway?
Last fall, the Freeps enthusiastically supported the candidacy of the Circ Highway's #1 cheerleader, Jim Douglas. But it wasn't too long ago that the paper strongly opposed the Circ for a host of reasons.
For example, in 1998, the paper editorialized, "The Circumferential Highway will promote destructive land use and pollution. Chittenden County must not go down this road."
In 1999, the editorial page told readers the Circ would "foster residential and retail sprawl" and "increase traffic instead of alleviating it."
And two years ago, before the Kansan arrived, the paper ran a "Don't Build the Circ" editorial on July 18, 2001.
Lately, as the Circ battle has heated up like never before, The Burlington Free Press has been, as one Circ opponent put it, "missing in action."
Media Notes -- The latest Nielsen Ratings show little change in the local TV news battle. Ch. 5, as usual, cleans up in the metro market with a strong New York following, while Ch. 3 continues on top in the larger DMA that includes all of Vermont and a slice of rural New Hampshire. And Marselis Parsons & Co. are crowing over their recent Edward R. Murrow Award. Congrats, folks!
If there's any surprise, it's that Ch. 22 remains way, way behind. According to Nielsen, only 2-3 percent of TVs are tuned in to WVNY at news time. This despite a fresh and energetic young staff, Barrie Dunsmore's thoughtful weekly commentaries, Dan Skeldon's arm-waving weather reports and Ruth Dwyer's hard-hitting "Hard Looks."
However, Ruthless Ruth hasn't produced a "Hard Look" since mid-May's "A Hard Look at Sex Education."
Sorry we missed it.
According to WVNY News Director Peter Speciale, Ruthie's "Hard Look" unit is on a "summer hiatus." No new segments planned at the moment, he said.
Meanwhile, WCAX has gone to the dogs. Monday night, Weatherwoman Sharon Meyer had a cute little pooch sitting on the anchor desk for the newscast's finale. Wonder what Ed Murrow would think of that?
Lucy, said Sharon, is a 5-year-old mixed breed she got at the Humane Society. Very poised and pretty. Sort of a canine Katharine Hepburn look.
Over at Ch. 5 it's twins, not dogs, that everyone's buzzing about. News anchor Stephanie Gorin is expecting twins. One for the 6 and one for the 11?
And over at Ch. 22, the perky, head-bobbing Jenny Rizzo is leaving for a new station in Florida. WFTX Ft. Myers/Naples. Best wishes!
And last but not least, one popular Vermont print journalist is going over to the other side. Tracy Schmaler, 30, has been on the Rutland Herald/Times Argus Statehouse beat the last few years. She's landed a flak job on Capitol Hill. Tracy is about to become the Democratic press secretary for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is currently the ranking member. Tracy will be on the front lines of the battle over President George W. Bush's drive to stack the federal bench with right-wing ideologues.
Said St. Patrick's top lieutenant Luke Albee, "Sen. Leahy was looking for someone who is smart, knows Vermont, can write well, work under pressure, and won't shirk from riding to the sound of the guns."
Best wishes, Tracy!