Dean claims the ‘Democratic wing’

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(Host) Former Governor Howard Dean is emerging as the leading anti war candidate in a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls. Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, Dean said he still believes the 2004 election will be a referendum on the state of the national economy and may not be dominated by foreign issues like Iraq.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel spend the day on the campaign trail with Dean earlier this week and filed this report:

(Sound of Dean speaking to a lunch meeting.) “Well I think you all know the first line of this: I’m Howard Dean and I represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party !” (Sound of audience applause.)

(Kinzel) With that announcement at the Capital City Auditorium in Concord, Dean outlined the key elements of his basic campaign speech to a standing room only crowd of roughly 300 people. Speaking at a podium flanked by signs that proclaimed that “The doctor is in – Dean for America,” the former governor told the gathering that he thinks President Bush is making a mistake by invading Iraq, because North Korea poses a much greater threat to the security of the United States. Dean also made a pitch for universal health care and a roll back of the Bush tax cuts. He also cited his strong opposition to the president’s education policies.

Spotting a number of younger people in the crowd, Dean reminded the students that in 1968, young people flocked to New Hampshire to support the presidential campaign of democratic senator Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy received 41% of the vote in the primary running against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. Several weeks after the primary, Johnson announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election:

(Dean) “And the course of history was changed by young people between the ages of even 15 and 25. That’s going to happen again. People think your generation’s not political – that’s not true. You’re different. You fortunately have a great deal more self restraint than we did, but you also have the Internet.”

(Kinzel) In an interview with VPR at the front of the ornate Capital City Auditorium just before the lunch, Dean argued that press reports identifying him as an antiwar candidate are not entirely accurate:

(Dean) “I’m not an antiwar candidate. I don’t believe you should run for president unless you’re willing to use the full military might of the United States in its defense. But I think as a judgment call about when you use that military might, the president’s judgment and mine are very, very different on this issue. I see North Korea as a major danger which we’re refusing to negotiate with – which I think is foolish. I see Iraq as a country that we’ve successfully contained for 12 years and can contain indefinitely. It’s a third-rate military power which poses dangers to those in the region, which is why I think they ought to be disarmed, but not to the United States.”

(Kinzel) Political observers are speculating about how the war in Iraq might affect the field of democratic presidential candidates. They conclude that candidates like Dean, who have been very critical of the president’s policies, could be hurt if the war is brief and is viewed as a military success. Dean disagrees with this analysis:

(Dean) “If we’re not in Iraq, Iraq will disappear from the radar screen and people will be worried about their jobs and their health insurance. And that’s what I started out to talk about in the first place.”

(Kinzel) Later in the afternoon, Dean spoke to a political science class at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester. Following the class he addressed a special meeting of students and community members. Tom Lee, a retired professor at the college asked Dean to explain what Lee felt was an inconsistency in Dean’s Iraq policy:

(Lee) “Governor would you elaborate just a bit more on the position that you took a few minutes ago, on supporting the troops if war is declared. I’ve never quite understood the logic of that. If you’re against war on Monday, but if war happens – you use the sports metaphor, you use root for the troops. I’m not quite sure how that follows –
(Dean) “I think supporting the troops is different than agreeing with the president. I’m not going to change my view on the president’s policies. I think it’s a mistake to do this, I’ve said so publicly, I’m not going to change my view on Wednesday or Thursday when we may be engaged. However, saying that we don’t want the troops well is unacceptable. These kids did not ask to go there, they’re being sent in the duty and defense of their country as the president of the United States sees it. And so to attack the troops for something that’s not their choice doesn’t make any sense. If we’re there we hope that it all goes well and I don’t see what choice we have.”

(Kinzel) Near the end of the St. Anselm’s discussion there was a big surprise for Dean. Sitting in the audience was a former classmate of Dean’s at Yale ; it was someone that Dean had not seen in many years:

(Woman) “Joan Abbot Kiley, governor – hi.”
(Dean) “Hi how are you? Good to see you! I practically grew up with this woman. This is great. Fantastic!
(Woman) “We knew each other in college. Can you just comment on your plan for health care in the United States?”
(Dean) “Sure, after I get over that shock. That’s amazing, that’s fantastic.”

(Kinzel) According to recent polls, Dean is running second in New Hampshire, behind Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. However Dean is still in single-digits in most national polls. Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at UVM who has followed Dean’s entire political career, says the former governor may face a major challenge convincing urban voters that he’s aware of their concerns:

(Nelson) “He’s going to be campaigning in cities larger than Vermont. And he’s going to have to convince urban people, labor people, people of color who constitute 25% of the democratic constituency in 2000, that he understands their issues. That’s going to be the hard sell. So winning the votes of upscale, white, college antiwar students makes for a great sound bite and looks terrific on TV, but they are a slice of the American electorate. They are certainly not the big chunk.”

(Kinzel) Nelson thinks many liberal Vermont Democrats may be amused to hear Dean chant that he wants to represent “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” because a number of these Democrats often felt that Dean represented the Republican wing of the Democratic party during his 11 years in office:

(Nelson) “That was always the frustration, you know, that during the 1990s he seemed much more concerned with marginal tax rates and the departure of millionaires for Florida. And there’s no question that the Republican Party in Vermont rolled over for Howard Dean. During his eight statewide runs, they never ran a statewide winner against him.”

(Kinzel) At this point in his campaign, Dean is concentrating on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He has already visited Iowa more than 20 times and plans another trip this weekend.

Political observers question whether or not Dean can raise enough money to be a credible candidate in this race. Dean says he needs to raise at least $10 million in 2003 to run an effective campaign and he has already qualified for federal matching funds. Early next week, new campaign finance reports will come out and they will offer an early report card on whether or not Dean will be able to raise money on a level with the other major democratic presidential candidates.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Manchester.

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