WASHINGTON – Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) has become the news-making Democratic presidential candidate in recent weeks, based in part on the power of the Internet.
In Iowa, home of the first caucus, 200 people turned out for an Internet-driven Dean rally Wednesday night that was organized under the auspices of Meetup.com (search), an award-winning Web site that helps people with mutual interests "meet up."
Meetup.com has taken the once-unknown candidate and turned him into "People-powered Howard," a man with a message, money and a following.
"What we did last week was because of you. You found us. We're grateful for it," Dean said, referring to a marathon online fund-raising drive that raised nearly $1 million.
Dean is so grateful to Meetup.com -- which has reached, so far, 53,000 grassroots voters for the candidate -- that he promotes the site on his Web page and credits it for much of the $7 million Democratic pace-setting, fund-raising bonanza for the second quarter that just ended.
"You have the power to take this party back and you have the power to take this country back and we have the power to take the White House back and that's exactly what we're going to do," Dean told potential volunteers at Wednesday's forum.
This week, thousands gathered at nearly 300 locations nationwide for Dean meetings. More than 200 got together in Washington, D.C.
Supporters admit that the Web site has been good for Dean, but they also acknowledge its appeal to those with more obscure pastimes.
"I don't know if it's bad that the next highest group [on Meetup.com] is witches, but it does not cost people anything so it's a good venue to get like-minded people together," said Dean-watcher Pat Johnson.
But Meetup.com isn't the only Web site that has been good to Dean. Moveon.org (search) made its name in 1998, when its creators, two Silicon Valley (search) liberals, started an Internet-based political movement to protest the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Moveon.org, which won this year's Webby (search) award for politics, has raised and spent more than $7 million during the Bush administration on liberal candidates and causes, running ads featuring famous movie stars and tapping into outrage over the 2000 election recount, the GOP agenda and the war on Iraq.
Those are Dean's issues, and when Moveon.org held an online primary recently, Dean won in a landslide. The latest Iowa poll also shows Dean pulling to a statistical dead heat with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), who counts Iowa as his backyard.
Some suggest that Dean, who has never run for national office, may becoming the front-runner among Democratic presidential candidates, based primarily on his ability to capitalize on Web audiences.
But despite the successes so far, his closest aides admit they don't really know what they will amount to when the real voting takes place.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.