Interview on "Hardball"
July 2, 2007
REV. AL SHARPTON, GUEST HOST: ...Good evening. I‘m Reverend Al Sharpton, in for Chris Matthews, who will be back later this week.
We begin tonight with the Democratic National Committee chair, Howard Dean. Good afternoon—good evening, Chairman Dean. How are you?
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: I‘m great, Reverend. Thanks for having me on.
SHARPTON: How do you view Mr. Obama raising $10 million or more than the top poll— at least by poll estimates, the top runner, Hillary Clinton? How do you view that?
DEAN: Well, you know, the amazing thing about this is how well all of them have done. Both of them have raised a tremendous amount of money compared to what we were all raising four years ago at this time. You know, it‘s a pretty extraordinary time.
You know, you and I have spent a long time on the campaign trail together and talked a lot about civil rights. If Martin Luther King were around today, I think even he would be surprised to have a woman, an African-American and a Hispanic among the leading candidates for president of the United States in the Democratic Party. It is extraordinary.
SHARPTON: Now, according to the reports, Obama‘s on-line donations, or 90 percent of them, were $100 or less. Is he the Howard Dean of the ‘08 race? I mean, you were the guy that had made on-line work so [well] in ‘04.*
DEAN: Well, that‘s very important. What he‘s doing is bringing hundreds of thousands of new people into the Democratic Party, as we did, and to have campaigns like that, whether he- two years— or two cycles in a row is very, very good for the Democratic Party. Look, we‘ve got a very strong field. Nobody knows who‘s gonna win this thing in the end, but I think they‘re off to a really, really good start.
SHARPTON: Now, Chairman Dean, let me ask you, do you really think that money matters as much as people in the inside of the campaigns or inside of the Beltway, read this? Does money translate into votes, or is that overrated in terms of what the public may vote or may not vote for?
DEAN: It‘s important. It‘s not overrated. It‘s important. But there are a lot of other things that go into this. Grassroots organizations matter enormously. If money had translated into votes, we might be having this conversation in a more upscale place, in Pennsylvania Avenue, Al. So you know, it doesn‘t— it‘s not a one-for-one, but it does mean that you‘re a serious candidate, and it certainly gives you some advantages.
But on the other hand, you know, there‘s quite a few people in the Democratic field who have raised enough money to compete. And so I‘m not— I don‘t think this is going to be a runaway race by any stretch of the imagination.
SHARPTON: What happens if Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire and can write a check for who knows what kinds of money, if he decides to run— what will that do to the Democratic contender? What kind of heat will it put on the party?
DEAN: I think it‘s going to put heat on a lot of people. At the end of the day, you know, Mike Bloomberg‘s a very, very bright guy. You know him as well as I do. He‘s very smart. I don‘t believe an independent can run and win the presidency. A third party person‘s only won the presidency once in the entire history of the United States, and that was Abraham Lincoln.
And so I‘d be very surprised if he got in 'cause he— I don‘t think he wants to get in just for the fun of it. It‘s a lot of work. So my guess is he doesn‘t get in. But if he does, so far, the preliminary indications are that he hurts the Republicans more than us, but we don‘t know that and it‘ll be a long time before we know that.
SHARPTON: But haven‘t the Democrats appeared to, at least in the last couple of months, hurt themselves? And according to the polls, the president is at his lowest, but so is the Democratic Congress. Will that hurt the Democrats at the polls next year?
DEAN: In the long run, I think...
SHARPTON: Seemingly, voters are disappointed with what they are getting from the Congress.
DEAN: Well, I think in the long run, it won‘t. You know, we‘ve accomplished more in six months than the Republicans accomplished in six years. We raised the minimum wage, put ethics laws back in play in Congress, balancing the budget language, which the Republicans have refused to comply with, making it easier for kids to pay for college education. These are real things that have passed and make a difference in people‘s lives.
I think what people are waiting to see is the Iraq situation -- 70 percent of the people want to see the Democrats get us out of Iraq. I‘m not sure that‘s possible because the Republicans are obstructing us in the Senate, but I think we need to make the case to the American people that we will get them out of Iraq and the Republicans will keep them in Iraq. And judging from what the presidential candidates are saying, I think we can make that case.
SHARPTON: But shouldn‘t the party be saying more— I mean, it seems like the party has, being very frank about it, not come out as a body aggressively about getting us out of the war. Maybe the bully pulpit of the chairman could be used here to make people feel we are at least aggressively trying to move the Republicans from blocking us and obstructing the exit from Iraq?
DEAN: Right. Well, I think I‘ve been pretty clear for four years that we ought not to be in Iraq. But if you look— here‘s the difference. Every single one of the Republican candidates for president believe we ought to be in Iraq and supports the president, with one exception, who‘s a libertarian. On the Democratic side, every single one of the eight people running for president believes we ought to get out of Iraq and has a plan to do so.
So I think when the American people make their choice about a year-and-a-half from now, it‘s going to be really clear if you want to stay in Iraq, you vote Republican. If you want us to get out of Iraq, you vote for the Democratic candidate for president.
SHARPTON: According to most polls, Hillary Clinton is ahead as the frontrunner. If she wins the nomination, you, as the leading anti-war candidate in ‘04 and a leading opponent of the war— how will you reconcile being the chairman of the party with her position on the war?
DEAN: Well, I think it‘s pretty clear that both Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Edwards, Governor Richardson, Senator Dodd— all of them have said— Senator Biden— that we ought to be out of Iraq. Every single one of them have said that. There may be some nuances in their positions, but every single one of them believes that we were misled by the Republicans and the president and that we shouldn't be in Iraq. And 70 percent of the American people agree with us. So I‘m not too worried about my positions on the war, as opposed to anybody else‘s in the Democratic Party.
SHARPTON: Now, let me look at the other side a minute. The other news we got from the filings, the financial filings, is it seems like John McCain is collapsing. He raised less money this quarter than last quarter. He‘s even cutting back staff. Is John McCain finished?
DEAN: Well, I wouldn‘t go so far as to say that. You know, first of all, I got enough trouble with Democratic politics without getting into the Republican side too much. But I think, you know, $11 million is still a lot of money to raise, and I think it‘s kind of inside-the-Beltway punditry to say that a campaign is dead yet. Clearly, the Republicans are having trouble. The Democrats are going to outraise the Republicans by a lot, and that‘s— that means that the American people in general believe that the Democrats are more able to lead the country in the direction that the public wants than the Republicans are.
SHARPTON: Now, Hillary Clinton is in Iowa, or en route to Iowa. She‘s bringing with her her husband, Bill Clinton. What does Bill Clinton mean on the circuit as a campaigner? And how will you use him in ‘08, no matter who the candidate ends up being for the party?
DEAN: Well, he‘s been great to us. He‘s helped us raise money already. We did a big dinner in New York last fall. And he‘s obviously a huge asset, as a very popular former president. But remember, the spouses of some of these other candidates are pretty tremendous, as well. I think particularly Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards have gotten huge positive reviews, as well.
So obviously, President Clinton has a special niche in everybody‘s heart, but I think that at the end of the day, every candidate‘s going to have to stand up for themselves and be judged. And a strong spouse is a good thing, but there‘s more than one candidate with a strong spouse.
SHARPTON: Thank you, Howard Dean.
*[Interestingly, Tavis Smiley and Dean discussed this very same subject two weeks ago- Crocuta]