Sleepless Tour:
the Dr. Howard Dean Campaign

September 2003

by Mario Tama

I f Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean werenít in politics he would make a great revivalist preacher. At least thatís how many of his speeches felt on his whirlwind 10-city, 4-day "Sleepless Summer Tour", named to mock President Bush's month-long vacation at his Crawford ranch. The tour covered 6,100 miles and attracted more than 40,000 people. Sleepless was the theme of the trip and sleepless we were, generally starting around 5 am and finishing after midnight with almost zero time for filing between events.

Chicago:  Search me We crisscrossed the country with around twenty-five journalists in a 60ís-era charter plane dubbed the "Grassroots Express" with bag lunches, nonexistent legroom and patchwork wings that almost appeared to have been cobbled together from a junk dealerís spare parts. Due to new security regulations on charters following the Sep 11th attacks, we probably spent almost as much time standing on the tarmac getting searched by hand than we actually spent in the air -- although this afforded opportunities for quirky images of Dean being forced to unbuckle his pants as a security agent probed his midsection with a metal detector.

At every stop, Dean was greeted to a raucous reception of the type usually reserved for rock stars. Nowhere was this more surprising than his one-day swing through Texas, which came as President Bush was ending his fourth week of vacation at his Crawford ranch. Myself and around 25 journalists, 10 aides, and 20 supporters de-planed in Austin and were shuttled towards the first stop past a grim looking used trailer home lot named "Quality Repos". We rolled up to a local roadhouse and entered past Texans in cowboy hats sipping beer on the porch outside. Inside a local band jammed on stage before Dean was announced to the hootiní and holleriní crowd of 400 or so.

Seattle:  SleeplessHis speech was by now familiar, mixing in a long list of attacks on Bush foreign policy and tax cuts while bemoaning the loss of jobs and lack of health care. "Donít yell so loud!" Dean said, "Karl Rove will hear you all the way down in Crawford!" This and other catch phrases like "I think you have a saying down here, this president is all hat and no cattle" stirred the crowd up into a near-frenzy. This made life difficult for the photographers jammed against the stage as one white-haired Texas mama directly behind us screamed unceasingly in a hyena-like pitch. After a press conference on the front lawn Dean boarded one of two buses filled with supporters and journalists along for the ride to San Antonio.

Texas:  TouringHalfway along the route Dean switched buses to greet more supporters. A woman handed him a harmonica and asked him to play, noting that she had seen Dean play once on television. Dean stood in the aisle of the jostling charter bus and serenaded his supporters to a rather unharmonious tune as the woman held her cell phone close-by so friends could listen in. We soon rolled into a San Antonio assembly hall where Dean this time was greeted by about 1000 exhilarated supporters.

The scene was colorful with joyous Texans, Latinos and "Yellow Dog Democrats" and one woman in particular sporting a sparkled Texas flag vest. Dean practically leapt onstage and paced around pointing and flailing while hammering out one-liners like "This president played the race card, and for that reason, he deserves a one-way, permanent bus ticket to Crawford." Deanís histrionics once again mesmerized the Texas crowd, who responded by sending two flamenco dancers onstage to present Dean with his very own Mexican charro hat. Dean in turn performed a slight impromptu flamenco move of his own, sending the crowd into a state of rapture, at least as far as political rallies go.

Spokane:  Dr. Dean, still at itHoward Dean eventually raised more than $1 million on the tour with an average contribution of $58.60. He has tapped into an activist nerve in the Democratic party that other candidates have ignored while creatively using the Internet to gain momentum. The question is: Is his populist wave still on the rise or about to crash?

© Mario Tama/Getty Images


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