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Sunday, February 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:46 A.M.
Fighting words from Dean stir faithful here
By David Postman
Struggling presidential candidate Howard Dean used a speech to a yelling, stomping, liberal Seattle crowd yesterday to paint fellow-Democrat John Kerry and President Bush as twin tools of special interests.
Dean railed against Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who has supplanted Dean as the front-runner in the Democratic race, and said news yesterday that Kerry took more lobbyist money than any other member of the Senate made him so mad he was sputtering.
"This is the challenge for the Democratic Party: Do we stand with the special interests and the Washington cozy crowd, or do we stand with ordinary Americans who we have claimed to represent?" Dean said to an overflow crowd at Seattle's Town Hall.
Dean was in Seattle to win support in the state's Feb. 7 Democratic caucuses. Underscoring the importance of a possible win here, which could be his first, Dean told reporters he would be back once more before Saturday's party gatherings.
Meanwhile, Kerry and the other Democrats running for the nomination concentrated on the seven states that hold contests Tuesday.
Town Hall was a familiar spot. He spoke to another standing-room-only crowd there last May when he was riding an anti-war message to prominence in the crowded Democratic race.
From his first lines yesterday, it was clear he was taking a different tack.
"When I came here the last time, the biggest issue was the war," Dean said to more than 1,200 people. "It's still a big issue. But there's another issue, and that's the issue of special interests running this government."
The crowd still roared at any anti-war talk. But Dean said in an interview afterward that most Americans, although maybe not yet Seattle-area Democrats, have other things on their minds today.
Dean lays most of the blame for those problems on Bush. But in yesterday's news, he found a way to loop Kerry into it as well.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that federal campaign fund-raising records show Kerry has raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years.
Kerry has made fighting Washington special interests a key of his campaign. But Dean said the money from lobbyists shows a similarity between Bush and Kerry.
"It seems to me sometimes there's a little of George Bush in John Kerry," Dean said in the interview. "George Bush says the most blatant things that are just plain false.
" 'No Child Left Behind' leaves every child behind, which is something John Kerry voted for," Dean said of the president's education plan. "How many rationales has George Bush given us for the Iraq war? Well, how many rationales has John Kerry given us for the Iraq war, which he also supported?"
"Howard Dean's a desperate candidate, and desperate candidates get nasty," said Ali Wade, Kerry's Washington state campaign director.
She said Kerry has stood up to special interests for his entire Senate career, and she criticized Dean, a physician, for accepting speaking fees from the pharmaceutical industry.
For Dean, Washington state has been a good source of money and some of his biggest and most enthusiastic crowds.
A rally at Westlake Center in August drew more than 8,000 people. It was the largest crowd Dean had drawn anywhere to that date.
"It was just stunning to me to see out on a big plaza like that and see people as far as you could go," Dean recalled yesterday. "It was the only time I'd been nervous in the campaign. I just went, 'My God, I'm responsible for all these people.' "
It was a relaxed Dean who sat for a 30-minute interview that covered:
The resignation of his campaign manager, Joe Trippi. "I do not blame him for one thing that went wrong with the campaign," Dean said. "You can put the blame at my feet for anything that went wrong."
The candidate said he signed off on every important decision and every expenditure in Iowa and New Hampshire. He did say that as he went out to give his now-infamous speech after the Iowa caucuses, Trippi told him something along the lines of "let it rip."
The appearance of his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, on the campaign trail. Much was made when Dean's wife appeared in Iowa and then made a national TV appearance with the candidate because she had strenuously avoided campaigning and Dean said he would not use her as a prop. She may do more, though.
Dean said when he talked to his wife yesterday, on their wedding anniversary, she surprised him by saying, " 'I'll come out anytime you want.' A woman who has spent 12 years avoiding public life? I couldn't believe it."
In his speech yesterday, Dean defended his idea to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts and use the money to reduce the deficit and provide universal health insurance. The tax cuts have come at the cost of higher health-insurance premiums, college tuition costs and property taxes, he argued, adding up to "the largest middle-class tax increase in the history of the United States of America," a claim largely difficult to verify.
Dean received one of his biggest ovations after a heckler asked what he'd do to reduce the abortion rate. He suggested universal health care for children, sex education that isn't just abstinence-based, and finally, "We're going to tell all those white boys who run the Republican Party to stay out of our bedrooms."
Dean knows, though, that the screaming crowd is not representative of voters across the country and volume does not equal delegates.
"You can be as enthusiastic as you want in here and hoot and holler, but if you don't translate that into votes we're not going to make it," Dean said before adding a more positive spin. "We're going to win sooner or later, but I'd rather it be sooner than later."
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff reporter J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this story.
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