This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: It has been quite a story, the rise and fall, and now the rise again of Howard Dean. He was thought too radioactive to be the party’s nominee. But Democrats, as you’ve just heard, have decided he’s just the man to run the party organization.
So what’s going on? For answers, we turn to the veteran Democratic strategist and FOX News contributor Bob Beckel.
BOB BECKEL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you, Brit.
HUME: We heard in Major Garrett’s piece what all these elected Democrats in town are saying about him. But Dean got elected, or is about to be elected. He won over the party apparatus. How did he do it?
BECKEL: Well, he did it a number of ways. First of all, the idea of getting out of the way, you lead or you get out of the way. He’s not getting out of the way. I mean with all due respect to Senator Feinstein, I mean this is not the sort of guy who goes sort of quietly about his business.
How did he get elected? He got elected for two reasons. One, he does have a base in those parts of the organized Democratic Party. Like organized labor, many of whom supported him when he ran for president. And the second thing is he’s a national figure.
Let’s remember that this is the first time the Democrats have had a national figure, somebody who was known throughout the country, before they became in as long as I can remember. In fact, the last time either party had somebody like that, it was probably Bob Dole back in the ‘70s.
So here you’ve got a guy who is very well known. He’s branded as somebody on the left, fairly, or unfairly. And he’s stepping into a job where there is no counterforce on the message. I mean there’s nobody in the House, nobody in the Senate, no control in the White House. So I would be — if I were one of the people who were worried about Howard Dean and want him to be quiet, I would be cautious.
HUME: Now, his election is by the members of the Democratic National Committee who are several hundred strong. Correct?
BECKEL: Four hundred.
HUME: And they represent — you mentioned labor has strength, and I’m sure labor has its favorite friends on the committee. These people are — I just talked to Congressman Roemer, who was one of those people that had to stand aside finally. His candidacy — dropped out of his candidacy to make way for Howard Dean. He said that those — that that group of several 100 is more liberal than the rest of the party. Is he right about that?
BECKEL: Oh, sure. I mean the Democratic — if you look at the Democratic Party National Committee, it is 443, I think is the right number. Most of these people have been there, first of all, a long time. These are almost inherited seat. And they’re made up of state party chairs and people who are state national committee people from the 50 various states and territories.
Many of them have organized labor. Many of them are from the teachers union. Many are public employees. And they tend to have a more liberal agenda than say the majority of mainstream Democrats.
Does that rule out Howard Dean as a successful chairman? No. Because let’s remember, Howard Dean, up until a few days before Iowa, most of the press corps and most other people in this town thought he was going to be the Democratic nominee. And he got there because he knows how to do two things a chairman needs to do: raise money in small dollars and organize people. And those two things I don’t think anybody can hold a candle to Dean on that.
HUME: Well, the conventional wisdom among a lot of Republicans in this town is oh, boy. Howard Dean, the left wing guy that wasn’t strong enough to be their candidate, now he is going to be their spokesman. That’s good for us. Is it possible, Bob, that they’ve got it wrong? That Howard Dean will be so effective an organizer, and such a good fundraiser, that in the end, he will leave the Democratic Party much stronger than he found it?
BECKEL: Well, first of all, let’s try to put this in perspective. I mean Mable and Abner Andrews in Kokomo, Indiana are not going to get up tomorrow morning and say gee, it’s too bad Howard Dean has been elected party chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
In point of fact, the politics of this party are not going depend on Howard Dean. The vast majority of the people in the United States are not going to be paying attention to the internal workings of a party.
Having said that, I think where the Republicans better be careful. If they understood how good a job they did organizing in the general election. And they did a very, very good job. Howard Dean understands that and understands it very well. The other thing Dean knows how to do is get confrontational. And he is going to give George Bush fits.
HUME: Well, if he does give George Bush fits though, that will mean that he will be a very visible figure. He would have to be to some extent in order to do it. Would you not agree?
BECKEL: Yes. I mean anybody who thinks this guy is not going to be visible are living in some world I don’t know. I mean you can wish it and hope it. My phone calls in the last two weeks have been full of it. Bob, what are we going to do about keeping this guy down, not make him the spokesman for the party? Well, there’s not much you can do to keep Howard Dean down, if anybody hasn’t noticed.
HUME: Well, if he does become, as you suggest, sort of the face of the party, the spokesman for the party in the near term and perhaps for a longer period of time, until somebody emerges as a presidential nominee, will he not then become visible to Mable and her husband out in Kokomo, Indiana?
BECKEL: Yes. Maybe, but the thing is certainly not when you’re getting near the presidential elections. As you know, that will be taken over by whoever is running for the nomination.
HUME: Do you think he will, by the way?
BECKEL: No. Absolutely not. That’s when I think the people ought to be happy about this part of it. He said, and I believe him, that he’s not going to run for the Democratic nomination in 2008. So that’s a benefit, if you want to look at a benefit.
But secondly, I think that Howard Dean comes into this thing with expectations running so high that he’s on the left. If he can break those expectation and we know the politics about expectations. He was not a liberal in Vermont. This is a guy who did balance the budget. In fact, I think the National Rifle Association endorsed him in one of his races for governor.
He got on the left because of the war, which he opposed early. It was a smart move politically. And let’s face it. I mean Dean, you know, Vermont as a percentage of population has the largest number of deaths in Iraq than any other state in the union. And Dean rode that war issue and almost put it over the top.
I don’t think he’s nearly as liberal, in fact, on other issues as he was perceived to be. So that means can he play the expectation game right? He is not a stupid man.
HUME: No, indeed not.
So speculate for me on how this sort of unfolds. You’ve had sort of the party message that’s been carried recently by Kennedy, perhaps more conspicuously than anyone else. I think he and Howard Dean look to be at peace on the issues, at least lately. So how do you think this will play out?
BECKEL: Well, I think how it’s going to play out is he’s going to become — he, Dean is going to become a point of attack by Republicans and saying, there you go, that’s a representative of the Democratic Party. He certainly will get some of the detractors on Capitol Hill, as we’ve already seen.
But the fact is he’s going to be on your show, on the Sunday morning shows and he will be the face of the Democratic Party for a period of time. For those who don’t want him to do that, I think they’re kidding themselves.
In the long run, though, expectations of him being as far left as he is are not grounded, and I think he may very well emerge as a much more moderate spokesman for the party.
HUME: Bob Beckel, great to have you.
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