PHILADELPHIA -- On September 19, nine blocks from Independence Hall, staff and volunteers at the Campaign for Change office in Center City, welcomed Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry each carried Pennsylvania, a battleground state, in their respective presidential elections; and Democrats have their eyes on the prize -- the Keystone state's 21 electoral votes -- again this year. "We have to win Pennsylvania," Dean said. Addressing a capacity crowd of Obama supporters, Dean outlined the DNC's game plan for the final weeks of the campaign -- to register voters and get out the vote (GOTV) -- and responded to questions on the role of local politicians, the issue of racism in the election, and the economic crisis facing the country. He, also, answered questions about the McCain campaign's blatant lies, voting machine fraud, and whether or not Democrats will challenge if there are issues of fraud and voter intimidation this year as there were in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.
In rallying the troops, Dean said, "The race will be won in this office and in offices like it around the country." He reminded those present that beginning with the caucuses and primaries, the difference in this campaign (in addition to effective use of the Internet) has been the Obama team's ground game. "They've set up a system," he said, "that is better prepared" to register voters and see that they follow through by voting. The campaign is consistent with Obama's "from-the-bottom-up, rather than from-the-top- down" philosophy. Obama's on-the-ground staff and volunteers are the engine that runs the GOTV effort, working with local citizens, door-to-door, ward-by-ward, precinct-by-precinct, county-by-county, and state-by-state. Dean encouraged everyone to continue to register voters during the next two weeks, right up until the October deadline, to send out absentee ballots, and to get people to the polls on Election Day.
The DNC chair gave a shout out to Hillary Clinton supporters in the room, too, and everyone applauded when Dean praised Hillary's call to nominate Obama by acclamation at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, a unifying moment for the party. He noted that, as someone who himself was defeated in the presidential primaries, he knew how difficult that was for her. "What she did -- interrupting the roll call -- was extraordinary," he said.
One volunteer, a middle-aged woman, asked Dean why local politicians, US Representatives Chaka Fattah (an early Obama supporter) and Bob Brady, haven't been more visible in the campaign, a question being asked, also, in other states about other local politicians. Dean responded by explaining that Fattah and Brady are working in Congress; and turned the question back to his purpose for coming to the campaign office -- to emphasize the importance of the ground game.
When another volunteer, a white male who appeared to be in his sixties, commented that the youth vote for Obama will offset the racist vote against him, Dean compared this election with the election of 1960, when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran against Richard Nixon. Dean pointed out that Kennedy, like Obama, ran for president at a time when the country was ripe for change.
"Is there some worry about race?" Dean asked rhetorically, "Yes. But people with racial biases don't usually vote with Democrats anyway." This year, he said, voters are more worried about the economy, home foreclosures, whether or not they and their families will have access to health care, whether or not they will have jobs, whether they will have social security and pensions when they retire, and something as basic as gas prices. "These concerns," he added, "are important to voters in rural Pennsylvania."
Change, not race, is what makes some voters hesitant about Obama, Dean explained. Continuing the comparison with the Kennedy/Nixon election, he pointed out that, like John F. Kennedy in 1960, Obama represents a generational change.
Dean went on to explain that, "The average voter is uncomfortable with change, generational or otherwise, with what's new, and with the unknown. Voters need to see what the change is and what it will mean to their lives." In order to envision change, the electorate needs only to compare the last eight years, he said, with what is possible in the future. Voters will decide whether they want to continue on the disastrous path we've been on for eight years, or whether they want to turn the corner and move in a new direction.
Citing the economy as one example, Dean said, "Don't forget--fifteen to twenty years ago, John McCain was involved with this country's last complete financial meltdown; and he helped create the situation we're in now; he has consistently been a proponent of the very deregulation policies that led to the current meltdown. The same people who were involved with the first meltdown are involved with this. The American people aren't dumb," said Dean, "They can't be lied to multiple times." Dean repeated that voters who are worried about the economy have a choice--they can choose between the candidate who will continue these policies--or they can vote for change with a new leader who has demonstrated excellent judgment, bi-partisanship and the willingness to listen to different points of view, who is calm in the midst of crisis, and has keen political skills while already helping to restore the United States' standing in the world.
Alluding to his experience as a physician, Dean explained that in therapy, the intensity of pain must be stronger than the patients' fear of change, of taking the steps that will make them well. When the pain is intense enough, they will make the change. Dean believes the pain Americans are experiencing--from high gas prices to losing their homes and pensions--is now stronger than their fear of change.
Dean talked about our need to restore America's moral authority in the world. At one time, when Europeans thought about the US, they thought of the beaches of Normandy, now they think of Guantanamo. "I was so proud of Barack Obama who went to Europe and inspired thousands of people to come out, waving American flags, and listen to him," Dean said. "Republicans don't get it--that having moral authority makes a difference. When people don't like America, they don't buy American products and they don't support our military. We ought not to torture. If we are to be a beacon to the world of hope, freedom and individual rights, we have to practice it. We can't preach it, if we don't practice it at home," he said.
Kathleen Barrett, a volunteer from New Jersey, in her fifties, was moved by Dean's words. She said, "What resonated with me most was his comment about how important this election is because of the effect it will have on how the rest of the world looks at us. If McCain gets in, not only will our injured reputation not improve, it will get worse. We can't afford to wait another four years. If we don't restore our reputation now by electing Obama, it will be too late."
When questioned about the McCain campaign's flagrant lies, smears and hatred, and what the Obama campaign can to do combat them, Dean said, "The lies McCain and his team are telling are extraordinary -- by all accounts -- and we're not letting them get away with them. Obama has been calling McCain out on each lie, and confronting both McCain and the Republican Party. We are cataloging every lie, falsehood and smear so that we can respond rapidly." Dean credits the press with doing a reasonable job in fact checking and not allowing lies and smears to go unanswered.
In response to concerns about a repeat of the questionable election results in 2000 and 2004, Dean assured the audience that the Democratic Party in each state will be on the alert for irregularities in voting machines and voter fraud and intimidation. More than ever, he said, "This election is for our children."