More than 110 strangers assembled at four locations around Miami-Dade County Wednesday night to build a grassroots campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, 15 months before the presidential election and more than six months before the Florida Primary Elections.
These strangers were united by a web site, Meetup.com, which allows people with similar interests to vote on a venue to meet and discuss a topic of their choosing.
Still smarting from the losses of Democratic favorites Al Gore and Janet Reno in 2000 and 2002, respectively, Democrats in South Florida are organizing and campaigning for their candidates earlier than ever.
The Titanic Brewery in Coral Gables attracted 30 participants. The crowd included people of all ages and some UM students.
Dean supporters were organized into groups of eight to 10 people to take part in “The Great American Conversation” over food and drinks. People expressed their worries about the nation’s current problems and discussed reasons why they support Dean’s bid for presidency in light of them. The issues most frequently discussed by the crowd included Dean’s stance on the economy, the war in Iraq, universal health care and gun control.
“Dean is a new voice. He’s different from the other Democratic candidates,” Tim Golden, a law student at UM, said. “I voted for Nader in ’00 because the difference between Republicans and Democrats was minute at best then. Dean is more interested in non-centrist ideas.”
“Dean puts forth his own issues rather than finding out what the electorate wants and tailoring his manifesto to meet the numbers,” Kevin Finn, a Ph.D. student in foreign languages and literature at UM, said.
Dean, the former governor of Vermont, campaigned vigorously over the summer and even landed on the covers of Time and Newsweek when polls showed him evolving from a dark-horse candidate frequently labeled as “too liberal” by political pundits to the front-runner, surpassing former shoe-ins Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. Dean’s nascent success has come along with attacks from the press and critiques within Dean’s own base that his supporters are mostly affluent, white Americans with internet connections.
The Meetup crowd at the Titanic Brewery did give a hint of Miami-Dade County’s diverse ethnic and racial population, but it was far from proportional to the county’s actual makeup. Supporters discussed this issue and asked each other what they could do to spread the word about Dean to people from different socio-economic backgrounds and overcome the digital divide.
According to Dean’s campaign staff, more than 105,000 people signed up to “meet up” in September around the U.S. and other countries.
Miami Dean Meetup organizer Meghan O’Connor said that the crowds at the monthly meetings hovered around 20 to 25 until July when it expanded to 60 and then surged to 100 in August.
“The reason that people come to these meetings is because the more they hear about Dean in the media, the more they feel that he’s looked at the facts about the issues facing our nation, and that he’s not just a typical politician,” O’Connor said.
For more information or specific meeting details, visit www.meetup.com.
Horacio Sierra can be contacted at