With the faint sounds of late-70s rock and disco music playing in the background, local Howard Dean supporters gathered at W.G. Grinders in downtown Columbia on Wednesday to work on their grass-roots campaign for the Vermont governor.
The evening, called a “meet-up,” focused on handwriting letters to undecided voters to swing their votes towards Dean in the upcoming Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
Local Dean volunteers handed out packets emblazoned with “County Connection: people-powered Howard.” Inside the packets were two names of undecided rural voters in either Iowa or New Hampshire and their addresses and phone numbers.
Dean’s campaign office in Vermont obtained the list of all Democratic voters in New Hampshire and Iowa and provided the addresses to Dean meet-ups nationwide. Dean supporters were encouraged to send personal letters to these people and to call their pen pals in two weeks to make sure the letter reached them.
“It is the true meaning of grass roots,” said Bob Berlin, the voluntary coordinator for the Mid-Missouri Effort to Elect Howard Dean. “It’s everyday individuals in America making direct contact with everyday individuals in America.”
Berlin stressed that this type of campaigning has never been done in a presidential election before and called it “blazingly successful.” He said only nine people signed up for the Columbia meet-up through the Internet site, but 25 showed up at 7 p.m. Nationwide, the meetings were expected to attract 145,000 Dean supporters.
Berlin got involved with the mid-Missouri Dean effort in May when he created a Yahoo Internet group, which eventually attracted 181 local volunteers. He is passionate about Dean’s candidacy.
“Dr. Dean isn’t telling me how he’s going to save my country,” Berlin said. “Instead, he’s telling me that it’s my job to take back my country.”
Kori Smith, a junior at the MU, has been involved with the campus Dean effort but had never been to a mid-Missouri meet-up.
“I was undecided for a long time,” the Independence native said, “but he seems like he’s man enough to beat Bush.”
Not all who showed up to the meet-up were sold on Howard Dean. Eight people sat and talked with local Dean supporters for an hour about Dean’s outlook on things such as health care and homosexuality, sometimes rather heatedly.
The Iowa caucus is Jan. 19, and the New Hampshire primary is Jan. 27.