According to senior New York Democrats who confer regularly with Dean’s inner circle, the Dean camp believes the most plausible challenger, if there is one, would be Clark (who’s showing signs of life in various polls) or, less probably, Gephardt (he needs a huge win in Iowa).
Clark, they believe, could be particularly competitive in a head-to-head race in New York—a key reason for Dean’s buildup here. New York is home to one of his most outspoken supporters, Harlem congressman Charles Rangel, and two of his least outspoken, Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“Clark has a unique outpost in New York State,” says one influential New York Democrat close to Dean. “This is where Clark has a financial base. It’s where the Clintons’ top operatives are located. It’s the place where a Clark-led stop-Dean movement would most likely make a last stand.”
Not surprisingly, the Clark camp can live with that analysis. “New York will be a two-person race: Clark and Dean,” says Chris Lehane, a senior adviser to Clark. He concedes, however, that the Dean side had a huge head start here.
“They’ve been on the ground a year, and we’ve been on the ground only two months,” Lehane says. “But as many New Yorkers know, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Geto, the leading Dean operative here, declined to disclose the New York campaign’s budget, and he said it was too early to predict what sort of TV ad buy the campaign might undertake. But other yardsticks demonstrate Dean’s solidity here. For instance, the Dean campaign claims the support of 30 Democratic county chairmen—nearly half the statewide total of 62.
Then there are Dean’s volunteers. In a measure of just how many he has at his disposal, his New York headquarters sends 200 of them up to New Hampshire every weekend. Although that often entails getting up at 5:30 on Saturday morning to trek up to Manchester, and sleeping on a mat on the floor of the local YMCA, campaign aides insist that thousands of people send e-mails and résumés every month, asking to be chosen.
City Councilman Eric Gioia recently went to a Dean fund-raiser in his Queens district, and was stunned to find that he didn’t know a third of the people there. “Dean’s bringing New Yorkers into the process many of us have never seen before,” Gioia says.
“In terms of organization and momentum in New York, Dean’s kicking everyone’s ass,” adds a New York fund-raiser who supports a rival candidate. “Nobody knows truly where Dean stands on the issues except for the war. That alone is giving him an organizational base that positions him very well in New York.”
The growth of the Dean operation in New York has mirrored Dean’s nationwide success. He began amassing support here with little attention from the New York Democratic Establishment. The city’s donor community, unimpressed with the Democratic field, lacked a favorite. Many top elected officials and labor leaders similarly bided their time.
But, as has happened across the country, Dean’s success with rank-and-file Democrats forced the party hierarchy to take notice. Elected officials quickly recognized that a Dean endorsement might allow them to capture some of the Dean constituency for themselves. For instance, Gifford Miller, 34, is running for mayor next year, and he badly wants to tap into a young generation of professional, computer-bound voters who have hitherto demonstrated little interest in politics.
In the end, however, Dean’s advantage here is all about one thing: cash. With his rivals trailing, and forced to sink most of their resources into early-primary states, Dean has been the only one with enough spare funds to establish a substantial campaign in later states like New York.
“He’s got a huge amount of money,” Congressman Weiner, the Clark supporter, acknowledges. “It’s much easier being everywhere at once when you have a bankroll like his.”