Howard Dean is reportedly claiming not just that he is going to win the Presidential election on the basis of first-time voters, but that he is going to turn out so many first time voters that it is going to sweep the Democrats to retaking the House and Senate or at least making significant headway towards it. I am amazed at how the idea that you can win elections by turning out first time voters persists from election to election despite very little evidence that it ever works, especially for candidates running from the left, even though those seem to be the people most enamored with it. Jesse "The Body" Ventura did win the Minnesota gubernatorial election in part by turning out a surprising number of lower-class white voters who had never voted in an election before, but I really don't know if he represents a battle plan for left-party success. In some ways, the idea that a candidate is going to be so inspiring to the masses that large numbers of people who had hitherto spurned turnout appeals are going to show up en masse at the polls reminds me of the idea that a lot of people have the first time that they are teaching, which is that they are going to be wonderful and inspiring and their classes are going to be these much deeper and more meaningful experience for students than all their other classes. All I want is to see the Democrats win back the White House, I don't need it to be accompanied by great sweeping movement of hope in order to be happy.
A whole other part of the problem is how many more people you have to line up to win an election with new voters as opposed to winning it by winning over voters who would have voted for the other candidate. The general intuition being that if you were going to lose an election by one vote, you would only have to win over one voter to change the election in your favor, but you would have to bring two new people to the polls if you were going to win it through turnout.
(None of which, incidentally, is to diss the Dean candidacy. Watching the way the polls have gone in New Hampshire and Iowa, I think an underappreciated impressive thing is how well Dean is doing among Democratic voters who have gotten substantial exposure to all the candidates.)