"Well, a lot has happened since our last meeting, and not much of it is good," said Rob Beckwith, host of the Feb. 4 Howard Dean "meet-up." It was the one-year anniversary of the first Internet-organized gathering of support for the Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate. About 25 of Dean's loyal Pittsburgh devotees met to rouse enthusiasm and discuss the condition of Dean's debilitated campaign. As of Feb. 9, Dean had won no states, and leading contender Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had won 10 of 12.
Compared with a mere 12 meet-ups in all of America a year ago, there were six scheduled this month for Pittsburgh alone. "I think the attendance was down a bit due to the weather, and a bit to the Kerry surge," said Sam Gerace. Previous gatherings had attracted 75 to 100 people.
A few speakers mentioned Dean's integrity and fervor and his abilities to balance the Vermont budget and champion health care. Some brought up his skills as a passionate, intense orator. "I got chills," one woman said. Another attendee played an audio clip of a Dean speech set to inspirational Muzak, which elicited both giggles and nods of admiration.
"I'm not staying in this campaign for some misplaced loyalty," said one man in attendance. Another woman volunteered, "I'll still be working my heart out until --" and paused.
"-- he's elected!" someone finished for her, to cheers.
Some blamed Dean's near-demise on a rash of negativity from the media. "Howard Dean came out and spoke out against the [media] monopoly consolidation," said Jeff Black. "That's why in mid-December there has been a huge shift of anti-Dean commentary -- very subtle, very subtle, insidious even, thousands of times a day. We don't know, as Americans, just how vulnerable we are to this mass media group-think."
Three days later, on Feb. 7, a small group of Deaniacs stood at the intersection of Murray and Forward avenues in Squirrel Hill holding up signs saying, "I am Howard Dean's special interest," reflecting both Dean's grassroots campaigning (average contribution: $77, according to Deanforamerica.com) and his charge that rival Kerry is a tool of lobbyists.
Waving his poster at traffic and receiving beeps, jeers and shouts of "Anyone but Bush," Dave Ninehouser cited Dean's continued ability to raise cash as a strong sign that he's not out of the race yet. Last week, Dean reached his goal of gaining $700,000 for his Wisconsin campaign in just one day. But at both Dean events, many of his supporters voiced interest in continuing their work for the Democrats no matter what. Said Jeff Black: "I will absolutely work for John Kerry if that means getting George Bush out of the White House."