Former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean is backing seven statehouse candidates as part of an effort to build a national progressive political farm team.
Through his political organization Democracy for America, Dean is trying to bring national attention and money to Democratic challengers in legislative races in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri and South Carolina.
Dean's organization has issued a press release announcing his stance and is providing Internet links to the candidates' Web sites.
Democracy for America also is planning to give the candidates continued exposure in its blog a daily Internet update from the organization.
The would-be legislators are running in seven of 12 elections that Dean hopes to influence. The former Vermont governor, who lured thousands of political neophytes to his short-lived presidential campaign, hopes also to share his coattails with candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in Missouri and Texas, the U.S. Senate in Illinois, the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Hillsborough County, Fla., supervisor of elections.
"We're looking long-term," said Democracy for America spokesman Walker Waugh. The Dean organization wants people to run and learn the ropes, he said.
If they don't win this time, their efforts will build a base for the next election, Waugh told Stateline.org.
Ken Campbell, who is running for the state House of Representatives in Oconee County, S.C., already has seen the power of Dean's popularity.
Within the first three days of Dean's endorsement, Campbell's Web site had gotten about 50,000 hits and he had received 40 e-mails a day from people hoping to contribute, volunteer or just note their support.
Dean's backing has allowed his campaign to tap into a "tremendous network of very committed people across the nation," Campbell said.
But it also has raised questions about Cambell's positions as a moderate Democrat running in a conservative district. Campbell's political foes claim he would advocate for higher taxes because of Dean's position that federal tax cuts, enacted under President George W. Bush, should be eliminated.
The endorsement was not based on ideology, Campbell said. "When I was originally contacted by Democracy for America, there was not a single question about my public policy stances. They wanted to make sure we were organized and ready to go."
Waugh said that unlike conservative organizations such as the Club for Growth or the Christian Coalition, Democracy for America does not have an ideological litmus test for its candidates. Instead the group chose from about 600 campaigns that asked for Dean's support, he said.
It also didn't hurt to have supported Dean during his short-lived presidential campaign.
"I definitely was on the Dean bandwagon early on," said Lori Saldaa, who is running for an open seat in the California State Assembly in her San Diego district.
Most of the endorsed candidates also worked for or contributed to Dean's presidential campaign, including Donna Redwing, who advised Dean on gay and lesbian issues and now is running for the Colorado House of Representatives.
Several candidates credit Dean with sparking their interest in running for office.
Campbell, from South Carolina, was one of the record number of small-dollar contributors to the Dean campaign. "I followed Dean early. I may not have agreed with every single position. But he brought people like me back to an interest in public policy," Campbell told Stateline.org
"There's no doubt that Dean's organization and call to action got me re-energized in politics," Campbell said.
The "Dean Dozen" candidates are: Mary Ann Andreas for California State Assembly; Ken Campbell for South Carolina House of Representatives; Maria Chappelle-Nadal for Missouri House of Representatives; Scott Clark, Mark Manil and Nina Trasoff for the Arizona Corporation Commission; Kim Hynes for Connecticut House of Representatives; Richard Morrison in Texas for U.S. House of Representatives; Barrack Obama in Illinois for U.S. Senate; Rob McKenna for Hillsborough County, Fla. supervisor of elections; Monica Palacios-Boyce for Massachusetts House of Representatives; Lori Saldaa for California State Assembly; Jeff Smith in Missouri for U.S. House of Representatives; and Donna Redwing for Colorado House of Representatives.