Dean says foreign policy will determine presidential election

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(Host) Howard Dean says he now believes the presidential election will be a referendum on the war in Iraq. Previously, Dean felt economic issues would be the top priority but he says the president’s credibility over the handling of the war is clearly the top issue for many voters.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Dean is very busy these days crisscrossing the country to support the election of Democratic candidate John Kerry. Dean says his role with the Kerry campaign is undefined. He’s campaigned with Kerry in several northwestern states and Dean is visiting a number of college campuses to encourage students to support Kerry in the November election.

Over the course of the summer, Dean was convinced that economic issues would be the dominant factor in the outcome of the election but now he thinks Iraq will be the most important issue in the campaign:

(Dean) “Here’s why it’s a referendum on Iraq: it’s true that economic issues and health care matter more but the reason that Iraq is so important is that it directly goes to whether the president of the United States is a credible person or not. The president is trying to convince us that Iraq has something to do with the war on terror, which is not true. But he’s done a good job convincing a lot of people that it does have something to do with the war on terror. Kerry’s job is to convince people that the president wasn’t truthful.”

(Kinzel) Dean thinks Kerry has done a better job focusing his message in recent weeks and he says the upcoming presidential debates are critical for the Democratic candidate. The first debate, which will take place next week, will focus on foreign policy:

(Dean) “He’s simply just got to get his viewpoint across in a way that gives the American people confidence in his ability to be president.”

(Kinzel) Dean also disclosed that the Texas National Guard officer who gave CBS News false documents concerning the Guard service of President Bush, contacted Dean several weeks ago to see if Dean would forward this information to the Kerry campaign. It’s a request that Dean says he turned down:

(Dean) “I believed it because there was no reason for me not to believe it. I didn’t do anything with it just because I get calls from people all the time asking, suggesting that I send this to John Kerry and that to John Kerry. And I’m trying to be fairly judicious in what I do, frankly. I’ve been out of the country for the last six days and I have not seen as the big brouhaha over CBS so I don’t really know how it evaluate all that.”

(Kinzel) Dean says he thinks that Kerry has run a strong campaign in the past few weeks. But he says the national news media has failed to cover the key issues of the campaign and instead has chosen to focus its attention on less important matters.

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

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