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Sunday, February 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Reality's bite felt among Dean backers

By J. Patrick Coolican
Seattle Times staff reporter

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Howard Dean signs autographs — including a Rolling Stone magazine cover on which he appears, right foreground — after his Town Hall speech yesterday in Seattle.
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The line that wrapped around the block at Town Hall in Seattle yesterday offered no indication that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign is in turmoil after two early losses.

Still, some supporters sounded fatalistic, the sense of inevitability deflated after Dean failed to win in Iowa and New Hampshire despite soaring in the polls as recently as December.

Will he win the nomination?

"No," Suzannah Sloan said flatly. The Bainbridge Island novelist arrived two hours early to get a precious seat for Dean's appearance. "He's going against the Democratic establishment and the Republican establishment. It's a double whammy."

Sloan said she was worried that Dean's campaign had spent some $40 million with no real payoff in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Although the event yesterday was promoted as a hunt for undecided voters, the crowd appeared to be made up of the converted. Sherri Bloomer, who was first in line at 12:15 p.m., said she has been a Dean supporter since August. She said she likes his record for fiscal responsibility in Vermont and principled opposition to the war in Iraq.

Her advice to Dean: "Don't compromise."

There was at least one undecided voter in line, though. Derek Low has two jobs — as a social worker and waiter — but no health-care coverage. He said he was trying to decide between Sen. John Kerry and Dean, after having voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, for which he said he now feels guilty.

The promise of Dean's insurgent campaign — that he would bring new voters and especially young voters to the polls — was not in evidence at Town Hall. Many young voters who were there said they had voted at least once before, in 2000.

Those interviewed said they were united in their insistence that Dean contest every state until the finish. "There's a lot of pressure for him to give up, but he's got to keep it going," said Karen Clark, a Seattle attorney.

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Many talked about their disdain for President Bush.

Richard Gilmore and Randy Stucker, both Army veterans, said they were tired of being made to feel un-American just because they opposed the president's policies.

Sloan echoed Ronald Reagan's line from his 1980 presidential campaign: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

Many in attendance said they would support the Democratic nominee no matter the eventual winner.

J. Patrick Coolican: 206-464-3315 or jcoolican@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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