WASHINGTON -- Not until Howard Dean, the 21st-century candidate of the Internet, achieved old-fashioned 20th-century laurels of simultaneous Newsweek and Time cover stories did the skeptical realize he really may become the Democratic presidential nominee. The party's establishment, however, still cannot understand the phenomenon, which is perfectly clear to his own managers.
Dean utilizes the technology of 2004 to solve the insurgent's usually fatal fund-raising shortcomings, while his opponents are mired in 1992. He also benefits from the institutional memory of campaign manager Joe Trippi, who understands the historic importance of the Iowa and New Hampshire tests that his opponents have downgraded. But the former governor of Vermont is now the Democrats' recognized front-runner mainly because he is the Anti-Bush.
Dean's campaign is a remorseless assault on George W. Bush, far exceeding his opponents'. Humorless and unsmiling, the country doctor with upper-class roots pummels the incumbent president. He has tapped into pure hatred by rank-and-file Democrats of the reigning Republican that I have never seen in 44 years of campaign watching. Not Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or even Bill Clinton generated such animosity.
Dean stays far in front of the nine-candidate pack in Bush-bashing. His latest coup was a television ad, run in the president's home state of Texas, showing Dean on camera denouncing Bush ("The only way to beat George Bush is to stand up to him"). That feeds Dean frenzy among Democrats. Every other candidate, even the pleasant Sen. Joe Lieberman, bashes Bush regularly. Nobody, however, does it with Dean's relish. Only the Dean camp perceived early on that Democratic voters wanted no optimistic messages of growth but attacks on the president who has been demonized ever since the Florida recount. Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Richard Gephardt caught on belatedly, and Lieberman less vigorously.
While Trippi is celebrated for harvesting big money through contemporary technology, he is also a 47-year-old politician who remembers the recent past. I first interviewed him in 1984 when he worked for Walter F. Mondale in his second presidential campaign. Trippi had not been engaged in such an effort since 1988, but he is a rare political operative today who always appreciated the potential of New Hampshire and Iowa.