It was Ike who said, "I will go to Korea." Jimmy Carter said, "I will never lie to you." Walter Mondale beat back a challenge from Gary Hart for the Democratic nomination in 1984 by asking, "Where's the beef?" And Ronald Reagan posed the now famous question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
In every successful political contest, you will find a phrase or a one-liner that catches the public's attention. A few words that, agree or disagree, caused you to say, "Hey, did you hear what so-and-so said the other day?"
That's why I took notice when I called in from the road last week and a colleague asked, "Did you hear what Howard Dean said the other day?"
Dean, of course, is the Vermont governor and long-shot presidential candidate. He had stepped to the microphone at a Democratic National Committee meeting, accused his rivals for trying to copy rather than challenge the Bush administration, and then electrified the crowd by saying, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
Now, whether his analysis is right or wrong is not the point here. But with that one remark he has separated himself from the growing field of Democrats and won the first, "Did you hear what so-and-so said" primary. Just ask the better-known and well-financed Dick Gephardt, who formally announced his campaign with a big rally last week. Not many Democrats, though, were asking what he said.
It is a long way from knowing who the Democrats' nominee will be. But if I were one of those other candidates, I'd start keeping an eye on Howard Dean.