photos by Sally
by Caleb Daniloff 94
Former vermont governor
Howard Dean left an indelible mark on this years presidential
campaign. His record-breaking fundraising, innovative use of the Internet,
grassroots organizing tools, and tone-setting rhetoric made impacts
that promise to last long after The Scream fades.
Deans meteoric rise and spectacular fall surprised many. For his
campaign staff, however, the governor was simply a man they
believed in, and still do despite his withdrawal from the race in mid-February.
Count among the faithful two UVM alumni, Sarah Buxton 00 and Narric
Rome 94, who spent more than a year on the front lines.
I began meeting with the pair soon after Deans launch on Church
Street on June 23rd, well before the national magazine covers. What
followed was a roller coaster ride of a velocity no one could have anticipated.
The pace at campaign headquarters was breakneck and grueling. Friendships,
personal time, sleep, diets, exercise, even paychecks, were sacrificed.
The pages that follow offer glimpses from life in pursuit of a presidential
November wind tears up College Street, quarrelling with tree branches
and hairdos before spreading across Waterman Green, around satellite
news trucks, and under the double doors at Billings Student Center.
Inside Marsh Lounge, journalists mill about, joking and catching up
with one another. Dignitaries and special guests sit in chairs normally
warmed by student senators. Behind them, rows of television cameras
train blank stares at an empty podium. American flags are draped on
A few yards away, Sarah Buxton keeps watch, silver cell phone pressed
to rosy cheek, eyes darting. She hasnt slept much in the past
two days. Less than eighteen hours earlier, she had only foggy notions
about where to stage this event: Howard Deans most important presidential
campaign speech to date. His opting out of the public financing system.
We wanted to give this event a real feel of community, the sense
that little places can do big things, Buxton says, brushing a
strand of red hair from her cheek.
But as Deans chief scheduler, Buxton is already coordinating his
next event, and the one after that. Following the speech and a television
interview, she will accompany the former Vermont governor to a Democratic
fundraiser in Barre and then fly with him to Maine for a political event,
capped off by a meet-and-greet with Maine supporters. Shell
be back in Burlington before midnight, and at campaign headquarters
the next morning by eight, where she plots Deans every move, deciding
who sees him and who doesnt. She is 25 years old.
always been his scheduler, I know how things run with him, and what
tires him out, says Buxton, who scheduled Dean during his last
term as governor. But the dynamic of this campaign is changing
very rapidly, and I was starting to lose perspective. I felt I really
needed to see it the way he moves with people around him, the
way the press reacts to what hes saying on the stump, and what
its actually like for him walking through an airport, or getting
on and off a plane with a reporter right next to him.
After Deans speech, campaign staffer Narric Rome leans against
a trophy display case. He has sneaked away from the policy and research
desk at Dean headquarters in South Burlington to hear his boss speak.
Rome is the campaigns go-to-guy on Deans political record
in Vermont, from state legislator to governor. The New York City native
spends his days steeped in press clips from Deans 20-year tenure
in Montpelier, interviewing former gubernatorial staff, and responding
to press inaccuracies and candidate attacks.
Deputy campaign manager Robert Rogan says Rome knows Deans record
better than Dean does. Narric has become an invaluable resource
in trying to explain to the world what Howard Dean is about, Rogan
For Rome, the morning at Billings serves as a homecoming of sorts. I
spent a lot of hours in that room working on student government issues
as a student senator, he says, adjusting the brim of his baseball
cap. I would never have envisioned this.
ARE OUR SUPERBOWLS
A few weeks later, Rome is leaning over a container of rice and chicken,
one eye on his computer screen. He forks in another mouthful. Above
his head, a bank of TVs play network and cable newscasts, TiVos recording
them all. In the walkways between cubicle dividers, jackets, scarves,
and hats hang on overloaded coat racks, others piled on top of filing
Like many cubicles at headquarters, the atmosphere at Romes is
definitely dormitory: an American flag, a box of Rice Krispies, loose
CDs, a tacked-up copy of Martin Luther Kings I Have A Dream
speech, a placemat from Henrys Diner altered to include Dean among
U.S. presidents from Vermont, and a red-and-white Santa hat. Missing
only are St. Pauli Girl posters.
Debates are our Superbowls, World Series, and Grand Slams all
rolled together, Rome says.
Tonights debate is being held in Durham, N.H., a state where Dean
has climbed comfortably into the drivers seat. His front-runner
status was further boosted this morning by a surprise endorsement from
Al Gore. Rome isnt sure what to expect from the other candidates.
The Policy and Research
Department comprises a dozen staffers, most of whom specialize in certain
areas homeland security, education, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender
outreach, healthcare, and the opposition candidates. Communicating through
Instant Messenger chatrooms, the team acts as a rapid response unit
to attacks on Dean, sometimes drafting press releases, other times sending
relevant information to site staff at the debate, those closest to the
The trick is to get into the first write-through of the story,
Rome says. AP writers, or any journalists, are writing through
their first version within the first half hour. We want to have a response
or comment in that first write-through, so hopefully it will stay throughout
the rest of the story.
A newlywed in his early 30s, Rome is somewhat at odds with the swarm
of peripatetic 20-somethings who stalk and buzz the warren of cubicles
at headquarters. After spending most of his post-graduate years in Washington,
D.C. as a political operative, Rome has moved back to Burlington for
Like most of the staff, he regularly puts in 14-to-16-hour days. Its
a hell of a commitment to be here, he says, but how often
can you help elect the next president?
The debate begins and all eyes turn to the TVs. Rome pulls on a yellow
ballcap and takes a swig of Gatorade. The chiming of Instant Messenger
begins to ring back and forth. Over the next 90 minutes, various staffers
stop by the cubicle to watch, but soon find the forum slow and subdued,
Ted Koppels best efforts to pit the candidates against each other,
Romes department generates not a single press release that night.
It usually averages four, and once sent out eight.
They were all trying to goad him into what happened in the second
debate, when he had that angry face on, Rome says. But were
not taking the bait. Thats the big myth about Governor Deans
temperament, that he cant take criticism. But hes been in
debates before, and its not like hes never been accused
of anything before.
As the screen pans to the candidates shaking hands and patting each
other on the back, Rome signs off AOL. The department wont even
hold a post-debate wrap-up.
I was definitely on edge, wondering if we were going to get really
hit, he says. But that didnt happen. So, we live to
fight another day.
A MASTERFUL JUGGLER
Sarah Buxton comes down the hallway wearing jeans and a white Dean T-shirt
over a dark, long-sleeved shirt, running shoes on her feet. Her hair
is pulled back in a loose ponytail. One of Deans original
seven, she smiles and puts out her hand. The campaign has agreed
to let me sit in on one of her scheduling sessions.
On the wall at her
desk hangs a Superman calendar and map of Iowa. On top of her national
scheduling duties, Buxton is focused intensely on the Hawkeye State,
working directly with the Iowa field office scheduler. The critical
caucuses are five weeks away.
These days, Buxton rarely gets home before midnight, and reads for a
while to unwind the days press clips, she admits. Christmas
has barely registered.
A lot of people will be getting Dean For America bumper stickers,
Buxton plucks off her glasses and wipes the bridge of her nose. As a
lead member of the scheduling department, Buxton is both near- and far-sighted.
At any given moment, she knows precisely where Dean is, what part of
a speech he might be giving, his fatigue level, his spirits, even his
state of hunger. Buxton is often the first stop for other staffers seeking
Deans ear, his mood ring of sorts.
If hes really tired, it may not be the best time to have
a big serious conversation with him, she says.
The former poly sci major considers every possible detail of the day:
from talking points and podium insignias to the cost of fish for a fish
fry and the needs of the traveling press corps. If certain subjects
might come up, like Israel, for example, with which Dean has struggled,
Buxton factors that into the equation, too.
Buxton strives to build consensus, she says, but has mastered the art
of saying no, especially to the powerful.
Sarah is often in the position of being the mediator between all
these different parts of the campaign, who desperately want the governor
to do something in their area, Rogan says. Shes a
masterful juggler in the threering circus that this campaign is.
This is not the first time Buxton has been at Deans side at the
crossroads of history. Four years ago, when the former governor signed,
behind closed doors, the groundbreaking civil unions legislation granting
homosexuals the same rights as married couples, Buxton, then a junior
administrative staff member, was standing at the table. Not even the
legislators who crafted the law, nor the press, had been invited.
Buxton and Dean first came together through a UVM internship, something
she didnt envision her first two years on campus. As a Vermont
Scholar, Buxton had planned on pursuing medicine, but didnt cotton
to the required chemistry courses.
Then I took a class with Frank Bryan and he totally blew me away,
Buxton recalls. He was such a dynamic speaker and he knew so much
about Vermont. And I loved that because Ive been part of Town
Meeting since I was six years old.
Buxton hails from a large clan in Orwell, Vermont, not too many of them
latte-drinking, Volvo-driving liberals. Some of her relatives, she says,
still have Take Back Vermont signs in their garages. A slogan,
ironically, that Dean molded into one of his campaign mantras.
Were ready, Buxton says. She scoops up her cell phone
and we head to the conference room.
Deans schedule for the next three days will unfold mostly in San
Francisco and Los Angeles. The campaign wants to build on momentum from
the Gore endorsement. A handful of operatives from the field office
have dialed into the conference call.
The following evening, Dean is scheduled to speak at a fundraising concert
at San Franciscos Masonic Auditorium. Musicians David Crosby and
Bonnie Raitt will perform beforehand. On more than one occasion, Dean
has strummed a guitar on the campaign trail. California is pressing
for Dean to jam with the talent. Bill Clinton playing saxophone is fresh
in many political memories.
I still think this is probably going to be a no, Buxton
says, leaning over the table speaker. Do they know what they would
play? Or is this something you would need from us ahead of time?
Buxton later confides that Dean loves Crosbys music, but didnt
want to lock him into anything in front of 3,000 people.
Every time the governor goes to a big event and theres any
sort of talent, the organizers always ask, Will the governor play
harmonica? Will the governor play guitar? I always say the answer
is no, and then I talk to Kate (OConnor, senior advisor) and the
governor about his comfort level.
As Buxton listens to the asks, or requests, she pens notes
in the margins of her print-out. On paper, Dean is YOU. YOU arrive
and mingle with VIPs, YOU work long ropeline out,
and YOU make brief thank-you remarks. Every minute of Deans
day, except seemingly for when to turn over while sleeping, is accounted
One California staffer asks whether an internet CEO could travel with
Dean from the Masonic Auditorium to a hotel dinner.
The answers no right now, Buxton says, Thats
the only time hes going to have to phone home to Paul and Judy.
Buxton is swift and fearless, defending her schedule from party chairmen
with lengthy Power Point presentations as well as the field operatives
now pushing for Dean to spend time with potential donors at a political
luncheon the following day.
I just feel so strongly that he is going to walk out of there
at 1:30, and be able to go get a drink of water or eat something,
Buxton says. He hasnt even eaten at this point.
Well, it is
lunch, says a female voice.
I know, but he doesnt eat before he speaks, Buxton
Silence on the other end.
Buxton then moves onto the next two hours: phone calls, prep time for
a speech on the economy, a meeting with local Latino elected officials.
The days end falls together. 4:30, Dean sits down with Rolling
Stone editor Jann Wenner for an interview. 5:30, he departs for a fundraiser
at the home of Freddy DeMann, former manager for Madonna and Michael
Jackson. 6:45, Dean leaves for a fundraising concert hosted by Rob Reiner
at The House of Blues. The Bangles and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will perform.
No one raises the guitar issue.
END OF THE RIDE
On Feb. 18, broke and winless in seventeen contests, Howard Dean ends
his bid for the White House.
I meet Buxton and Rome for lunch at Ri Ras on Church Street the
following week. Going-away parties now fill their datebooks. But neither
We had a very strong effect, Rome says. Obviously,
winning was preferred, but the journey was only second to winning. It
was worth it, no matter what happened.
Rome has already packed up most of his things at headquarters. His days
of campaigning are likely over, and he plans on casting his line for
a public policy job.
Something that doesnt have an election date at the end of
it, he laughs.
Buxton continues to schedule Dean as he shuts down the campaign and
figures out a reincarnation. Shes also helping out-of-work campaigners
Its truly a family, Buxton says.
The pair bristles at criticism that the campaign blew $40 million in
Iowa and New Hampshire. As the presumed frontrunner, they say, it had
made complete sense.
Theres no doubt about it, win Iowa and you get the bump
for New Hampshire. Win New Hampshire, and youre set, Buxton
said. The fact of the matter is our strategy worked. It just didnt
work for us.
The media, too, is a subject of disillusionment. A veteran campaigner,
even Rome describes the coverage as alarming.
The Gore endorsement was a clear call to the other candidates
and certainly the media organizations that this is the front runner
and if hes not going to be the front runner, youve got to
tear him down.
The notorious scream
speech was played some 700 times in the eight days between the Iowa
and New Hampshire contests, Buxton notes.
The closest the media could get to him being an angry man was
overplaying a scream that was a scream of excitement at a rah-rah rally,
Buxton says. He is not an angry man. Hes not harsh. He doesnt
have this crisp side to him thats being kept secret from the American
people. Its a myth.
Nonetheless, the sprit of the campaign lives on, the pair say, noting
Dean rhetoric in the mouths of other candidates the Iraq war,
healthcare, fiscal responsibility, equal rights.
Thats what we keep telling our supporters, Buxton
says. Dont feel like weve failed in any way because
we asked for change in America, and we were able to create that opportunity
by making the discussion what we wanted it be.
While some of her colleagues are shopping book proposals, Buxton wants
to spread her political wings, and perhaps return to Deans side.
For now though, goodbyes and thank-yous fill the agenda.
Its a lot like the end of college, but on a much more mature
level, she says. We shared this amazing