Will Dean Stay Left?

Hugh Hewitt, writing in The Weekly Standard raises the intriguing possibility that Howard Dean wouldn’t tack to the center after getting nomination. It’s an interesting theory, and it’s one that makes a certain amount of electoral sense.

The conventional wisdom now predicts that Dean will move to the center following wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. A ticket that includes John Edwards or Evan Bayh is being suggested. The gray heads are murmuring that Dean surely understands the need to moderate his image.

But what if Dean is smarter than people give him credit for being? What if Dean has figured out that he can’t win with a 2000 electorate, and that riding around in tanks didn’t do Dukakis much good? What if Dean really believes his own rhetoric, and has decided that in for a dime means in for a dollar?

Certainly Dean’s base is rabidly anti-Bush, anti-corporate, and anti-war. If Dean starts caving on any of those issues, he risks losing that base. If Dean starts losing that grass-roots base, he becomes yet another supremely vulnerable Democrat in the vein of Dukakis that will be steamrolled by the Bush campaign machine under the astute direction of Karl Rove. Dean can’t afford to lose the incredible momentum his campaign has right now, or he’ll lose his singular advantage.

There’s a certain amount of sense that a candidate running on a campaign that’s almost fundamentalist in it’s approach to "progressive" values that they’d go against conventional wisdom and forget running to the center like most observers would expect.

On the other hand, Dean’s attempts to appeal to Southern voters by invoking God, laughable as they are, seem to say that Dean is trying to tack to the center. The fact that his campaigns talking points try to paint his period in the Vermont governorship as a time of political moderation also belies Hewitt’s theory. However, Hewitt’s theory of picking somone like a Kweisi Mfume (or my guess would be Jesse Jackson Jr.) as a running mate might also be one way of keeping the South competitive without sacrificing Dean’s "progressive" core. (In fact, now that I think about it, this seems like quite a good plan for attracting critical African-American urban and Southern votes.)

Of course, all of this is hypothetical until Dean gets the nomination (provided his campaign doesn’t implode), but this is the first time I’ve heard this theory being elucidated. It’s an intriguing idea, and Hewitt may well be on to something that would be one of the boldest political strategies in recent history.

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