Dean targets student voters in NH campaign swing

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(Host) Former Governor Howard Dean says his campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination hinges on the support of young voters. Dean is speaking on college campuses and expanding his Internet web site to attract voters between the ages of 18 and 35.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Howard Dean) “Let me start by thanking all the students for Dean. This is really great and let me tell you why it’s great, before we get into the speech. It’s great because it is so fantastic seeing people your age who are interested in politics again. And the reason people your age don’t vote is because we don’t give you a reason to vote.”

(Kinzel) With those words, Howard Dean kicked off a campaign appearance at the University of New Hampshire last Friday. Dean spoke to roughly 150 students in a small auditorium in the UNH student center. The auditorium walls were plastered with political posters proclaiming “The Doctor is in – Howard Dean for America.”

Across the country there are now 65 student chapters supporting Dean’s campaign. Campus organizers at UNH signed up dozens of new members for their fledging organization. In his speech to the students, Dean strongly criticized President Bush’s proposal to cut taxes by at least $550 billion. Dean reminded the students that many of his opponents in this race support a sizeable tax cut:

(Dean) “If you say should we get rid of the president’s tax cuts people are going to say, ‘No,’ because they never want to get rid of a tax cut. But if you say the truth, which is you have a choice: you can have the president’s tax cut or you could have a prescription benefit for yourself or your parents. You could have the president’s tax cut or you could fully fund special education. So your property taxes might go down and you can have better schools you can have the president’s tax cut. Or the 20% of New Hampshire’s road budget which the president cut out, because he couldn’t handle the deficit, could be restored. Most people are going to pick roads, education and health care every single time. Why? Because they didn’t get the president’s tax cut, or they got $100 or $200.”

(Kinzel) The Internet has been a key to Dean’s early success with younger voters. A number of groups supporting Dean have sprung up on the Internet and these sites have proven to be an effective way for Dean to get his message out directly to interested voters. The Internet has also been a good fundraising tool for Dean. In the final week before a recent reporting deadline, Dean raised roughly $400,000 in small contributions from the Internet.

Dean makes it clear to young voters that he believes his campaign will be won or lost through the use of the Internet:

(Dean) “That is an incredibly powerful weapon in our arsenal and we have had more help from folks communicating to each other. The way this campaign is going to work is you all are going to go out and tell whatever you thought – hopefully it will be good, if it’s not then you don’t have to tell anybody anything. But it makes an enormous difference. It’s what’s put the campaign on the map. It’s what’s going to lead us to win and it’s going to lead us to taking back the country. Thanks very much.” (Sound of crowd applause.)

(Kinzel) Following his speech, a number of students expressed some concerns about Dean’s policies. One student questioned Dean’s call for all gasoline to be blended with Ethanol:

(Student) “I was a little confused with his environmental policy only because he had said to become more dependent on our own oil we would have to use ethanol. And I was under the impression that ethanol was one of the big problems in biomagnification and that that was one of the big pollutant problems.”

(Kinzel) Another student felt Dean needed to offer more specifics about the key issues that he’s raising:

(Student) “I haven’t heard any candidates for president speak before and I thought it was interesting to hear what he had to say. I did kind of question what his recommendations were for making things better. I wanted to ask a question but I’m late for class.”

(Kinzel) In a recent poll of New Hampshire voters, Dean was tied with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry for first place in the Democratic presidential primary. Each candidate had roughly 22% of the vote. Dean says in order to remain competitive in New Hampshire, he’ll need to develop a strong base of young volunteers who will help him deliver his message throughout the state in the months leading up to next February’s primary election.

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

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