Al Gore and later Bill Bradley grasped their chances of taking on the Clinton-controlled DLC to which they once belonged, hoping to turn power over to the new iconic liberalism represented by the pro-Dean movement. To reassert the centrality of the party line, David Jones was brought on, albeit at a comfortable distance from the Kerry and Gephardt camps, to crush Dean 's rebellious candidacy.
"Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values ran at least three ads in December against then-Democratic presidential front-runner Dean in early-voting states, " the Associated Press reported on February 10, 2004.
"The group spent $15,000 on an ad aired in South Carolina and New Hampshire that showed a picture of bin Laden and said Dean lacked the experience needed to take on terrorists. "
Some in the Dean campaign saw what was happening. The AP quoted his spokesman, Jay Carson, as characterizing Jones ' anti-Dean commercials as "some of the nastiest smear ads" in the history of the Democratic Party.
"The Washington establishment put this group together just to try to stop Gov. Dean," claimed Carson. Jones pompously bragged, "We did more with $600,000 than Howard Dean did with $41 million. "
Jones, no doubt, was right.
Media Killed the Political Star
Instead of organizing on the street and going door-to-door in Iowa like they should have done, Dean 's campaign manager Joe Trippi and team attempted to play ball with the big boys. The weapon of choice for Trippi and his opposition was none other than the mass media. Trippi couldn 't handle the TV ads. But David Jones could. Unfortunately, as Team Dean quickly discovered, focusing the majority of the campaign 's energy on Internet activity had clear limitations. Given that the Internet had not previously been used to raise cash and garner political support, Dean 's popularity was difficult to gauge. In fact, because the Internet was such an innovative source for mobilizing enthusiasts, Dean 's message did not reach many traditional voters in Iowa. Trippi, noticing the gap late in the game, decided to speak to these folks through their television sets. But they weren 't tuning in.
Once Trippi derailed Dean 's ability to propagate his campaign platform, defeat was a near-certainty. Jones ' PR machine was already in high gear, putting together their anti-Dean barrage. But the first negative ad that aired in Iowa was an advertisement developed by Trippi 's firm, which depicted Dean berating Gephardt for his stance on the Iraq war.
"October 2002. Dick Gephardt agrees to coauthor the Iraq war resolution, giving George Bush the authority to go to war, " the background voice in the TV ad murmured. "A week later, with Gephardt's support, it passes Congress. Then last month, Dick Gephardt votes to spend $87 billion more on Iraq. Howard Dean has a different view. " Howard Dean then chimes in, "I opposed the war in Iraq, and I'm against spending another $87 billion there. I'm Howard Dean, and I approve this message because our party and our country need new leadership. "
Gephardt countered Dean with his own flagrant advertising assault. "Howard Dean is attacking Dick Gephardt for a position Dean took himself, " the announcer says before the ad cuts to a question asked of Dean during the September 15, 2003 primary debate:
"Is that an up or down, yes or no, on the $87 billion per se? "
Dean: "On the $87 billion for Iraq? "
Questioner: "Yes. "
Dean: "We have no choice, but it has to be financed by getting rid of all the President's tax cuts. "
Gephardt then pops on the screen, announcing, "I'm Dick Gephardt, and I approve this message because leadership is about making tough decisions and sticking with them. "
The rest of the Iowa pack, particularly Kerry and Edwards, avoided the brutal attacks against one another, focusing their energy instead on the Bush administration and allowing the Jones crew and Gephardt to make Dean the target of Democratic attacks. This degree of infighting so early in the race was unprecedented in the Democratic Party. And since these ads aired in Iowa, no Democrat cast other candidates in a negative light in any TV spot. Why would they? Dean and Gephardt came in a distant third and forth, as the smooth-talking DLC-backed Kerry-Edwards duo moved to number one and two respectively, proving the effectiveness of negative advertising.
Around the same time a libertarian group called Club for Growth ran a TV ad where two actors pretending to be an older Iowa couple said that Dean "should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading . . . body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont. Where it belongs."