Dean candidacy boosts book

Biography: Two Vermont newspapers guessed that a look at their former governor would make them money as he ran for president.

December 27, 2003|By Eric Slater | Eric Slater,LOS ANGELES TIMES

DURHAM, N.H. - The debate between Democratic presidential hopefuls was about to begin, and the reporter from England was scrambling. As he pulled his laptop and tape recorder from a carrying case, out tumbled a dog-eared, coffee-stained paperback.

It was a book on Howard Dean, written by nine current and former Vermont journalists. Many of them covered their former governor for years, "would bump into him at the dump," one recalled, and could call him at home at 10 o'clock at night for a quick quote.

It's fast becoming the Bible for national and foreign reporters who had scarcely heard of Dean before being dispatched to cover his unlikely presidential campaign, fodder for rival strategists and a must-read for political aficionados around the country.

If Dean were at the back of the Democratic pack rather than the front, few would be buying it. And if he fails to win the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President, could vanish into publishing history.

"The sole reason for buying this book rises and falls with Dean," said Chip Fleischer of Steerforth Press in South Royalton, Vt., its publisher.

The book, which was written and edited in two months this summer, is in its second printing, with a third planned by the first of the year. It has sold more than 30,000 copies.

If Dean's best days are ahead, so may be the book's. At a tiny neighborhood bookstore in Portland, Ore., recently, Hamilton Davis, who wrote two of the book's chapters, intended to speak for 10 minutes and maybe sign a few copies.

"They kept me there for an hour, and I signed 15 or 20 books," he said.

Unlike the bulk of campaign-season books - most of them self-promotions written by the candidates with the help of ghostwriters - Howard Dean is a detailed, sometimes critical, look at the physician-turned-politician.

Want to know why Dean attended St. George's prep school in Newport, R.I., rather than follow his father to rival Pomfret in Connecticut? Turn to page 36. When the Dean family was touring Pomfret in 1961, "We went to Sunday chapel," Dean's mother, Andree, recalls, "and the students were so rude, they talked all through the service, and they didn't stand up to sing or anything."

No Pomfret for young Howard.

Curious as to Dean's record on the environment? Read a chapter called "Green and Not Green," in which author Davis accuses Dean of "hollowing out" Vermont's key environmental protection law.

In its 240 pages, the book explores Dean's early years in a wealthy New York family, his decision to become a doctor, his sudden rise to power as Vermont's top executive, and how, after 11 years in the statehouse, Dean launched a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

"We tried to strike a balance. We wanted people to see what kind of governor Howard Dean was without boring them to tears with detail," said Davis, a former newspaper reporter who also worked in state government.

By and large, the book's contributors, publishers and many readers believe, Howard Dean somehow succeeds - even though the authors didn't see what their colleagues had written until after it went to press.

The book occasionally bogs down, several who have read it say, but at least the bogging occurs in the details, not in repetitive, glowing quotes from friends, as in many candidates' autobiographies.

The idea for Howard Dean didn't stem from some altruistic effort to contribute to the greater political knowledge. Rather, two small, financially strapped Vermont newspapers wanted to make more money.

"In May, there was a brainstorming session - how can we make money in this tough economy besides publishing newspapers?" said Dirk Van Susteren, the Sunday magazine editor at the Rutland Herald and its sister newspaper, The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, as well as the book's editor.

This year, Dean began to surprise many with rising poll numbers, so Susteren and others from the newspapers gathered journalists who had covered Dean to see whether they would work on a book.

On Aug. 1, the writers went to work, each assigned a specific time of Dean's life or his handling of a key issue, such as civil unions. Manuscripts were due in 30 days.

Said Davis: "I ran a marathon once. I climbed Mount Rainier once. Other than that, it's the hardest thing I've ever done. And I won't do it twice."

The book details Dean's sometimes-cold nature; a highly respected environmental lawyer recalls coming out of a meeting with Dean feeling that he was the doctor and she was the nurse, there to carry out his orders. It dispels the now-fading belief that the governor was a Democrat of the far left; instead, it portrays him as being so fiscally conservative that he infuriated many in his party.

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