In recovery after the Dean campaign

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(Host) The drama and excitement of the Dean campaign became virtually an obsession for many Vermonters, but commentator Caleb Daniloff says that he’s now in recovery.

(Daniloff) Howard Dean’s announcement last week of a new political venture prompted in me a Pavlovian response. My instinct was to grab tape recorder and notebook, and put calls into headquarters.

For nine months, I covered Dean’s presidential effort, from the Church Street launch to his withdrawal, and then some. I was embedded. At least mentally. My assignment: follow UVM alumni on the campaign staff. A cover story for Vermont Quarterly, the university s magazine.

When I took the job back in early June, no one could have anticipated Dean’s meteoric rise. The story quickly took over my life, a tall order for a freelancer with a day-job in another county.

Dean was a story that broke every day, often multiple times a day. The campaign moved and shifted rapidly. And my alums were in the thick of it, on the flight deck of political history. They sacrificed everything: friendships, sleep, diets, personal time, and paychecks. Dean oozed from their pores. I was just there to catch their sweat.

To keep up, I read all the books, articles, blogs, and campaign press releases that clogged my in-box. I taped the debates and talk shows, attended meet-ups and house parties, and regularly stopped by headquarters. After every development, I phoned my alums, emailed, pestered relentlessly.

Having a day job though posed challenges. I conducted cell-phone interviews in the parking garage, the park, and the food court at the Burlington Town Center. During the commute, I played back tapes and nagged communications for a Dean interview, a Trippi interview, a Bob Rogan interview. I downloaded Dean’s son s hockey schedule as I considered ways to corner the candidate for a comment. This guy might be the next president after all.

I banged on my keyboard early in the morning and transcribed interviews late at night. My desk and bedside table were littered with notebooks, piles of dulled newspapers, wrinkled magazines, and microcasettes. I saw my family less and less.

For the better part of a year, I wrestled a monster that refused to reveal its face until the final weeks. All for one story. Because of what might have been. There really was no other way to cover it.

In mid February, I filed a 5,000 word piece with a 600-word sidebar. Given Dean s political slide I knew it was too long, but felt justified given the enormous effort. Three days later, Dean dropped out of the race. My editor asked that the piece be cut in half. A week later, I filed the revision. That evening, Dean won the Vermont primary.

The piece finally went to the printers last week. The same day the Catamounts were squaring off against top-seeded UConn in the NCAA tournament. In case of an upset, my editor warned, the presses would have to be halted, and the cover changed. Suddenly, I wasn t sure who to root for. My alma mater or my cover. In the end, I got my cover. And though the Cats didn’t win, like Howard Dean, they showed an entire nation they had the heart to play the game.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter and freelance journalist.

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