July 27, 2003
Democrats search for anyone who can win
Dean's straight talk inspires some, but first primary is 6 months away
By FINLAY LEWIS
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
Six months before New Hampshire voters cast their ballots in the nation's first primary, Democrats like Lance J. Klass are searching for a candidate who will go for President Bush's political jugular.
"We want someone who can win," said Klass, 59, as he awaited the arrival of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for a rally at a picturesque orchard nestled in Canterbury in New Hampshire's lush Merrimack River Valley. "I like (John) Kerry, but he isn't inspirational. He doesn't have Dean's passion."
Later, after Dean had rolled up his sleeves and delivered a vintage stump speech, dripping with scorn and outrage, Klass and his wife, Mimi, 56, said they felt confirmed.
"When he really gets cooking, he's terrific," said Klass, who lives in nearby Concord and licenses art for commercial uses. "I don't think George Bush will have a prayer."
In transforming himself from a long-shot candidate to a major contender, Dean has tapped into a deep-running strain of Democratic anger that is energizing party activists both here and around the country.
The divided Supreme Court verdict that delivered the presidency to Bush in 2000, the war in Iraq and its aftermath, tax cuts for the wealthy, deficits, environmental policies and other hallmarks of the Bush presidency form the bill of particulars in the emerging Democratic indictment of the Bush administration.
"People want a winner, and they want a winner badly," said state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a much-courted New Hampshire power broker who remains uncommitted. "I've been in this business for a long time, but the intensity impresses me. They don't want another four years."
That intensity was evident in the large, enthusiastic crowds that greeted Dean during a two-day swing through the state last week. The crowds mirrored his rapidly rising popularity among liberals and some political independents who three years ago were drawn to Arizona Sen. John McCain's spirited but unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.
In an important stylistic parallel with the McCain campaign, Dean has cast himself as a straight-talking insurgent challenging an establishment political culture that values consensus and frowns on risk-taking. That approach seems to be working here.
Facing a field of eight opponents nationally, Dean has surged into second place in most Granite State polls, narrowly trailing Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Although Kerry might have a slight organizational advantage here, both benefit from being regional favorite sons. For that very reason, a second-place finish in New Hampshire's Jan. 27 primary could seriously damage either candidate's prospects in subsequent contests.
"Dean is clearly the hot candidate of the moment. Whether he will continue to be the hot candidate of the moment when New Hampshire goes to the polls is another matter," said William G. Mayer, who has just finished a book – "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2004."
Mayer added, "He may well have peaked too soon. There are these boomlets that happen for candidates."
Others tap in
All the Democratic candidates have been trying to tap into some of the same resentments that are at the core of the Dean campaign.
Kerry, on the defensive for having voted last fall for the resolution authorizing U.S. military force to topple Saddam Hussein, has attacked the administration for purportedly using false and misleading intelligence to build its case for invading Iraq.
Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who helped Bush draft the resolution, bitterly attacked the administration last week for mishandling the postwar situation and for leaving Americans "less safe and secure than we were four years ago."
Sen. Robert Graham, D-Fla., continues to showcase his opposition to the resolution. Graham has also led the way in accusing the administration of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Two other top-tier candidates, Sens. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., have scored Bush for failing to beef up the nation's homeland security.
Also on the ballot will be Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio; civil rights activist Al Sharpton and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill.
None of them has been as blunt or caustic as Dean, an early opponent of the Iraqi invasion who doesn't hesitate to ridicule Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards and Lieberman for their pro-war votes.
"The way to beat George Bush is not to do what my competitors are doing. It's not to be like George Bush in the hopes of getting a few votes from it," Dean told an audience of senior citizens in Concord. "It's to stand up for the principles we believe in . . . We ought to stop running away from defending the high moral purpose of American foreign policy."
That argument did not sweep everybody away.
Afterward, Raleigh Dutton, 76, said, "I guess if you go on a lick and a promise, this guy is OK."
After a meet-the-candidate event in another part of the state, Tony Bower, 79, remarked, "I'm for Dean until someone else offers more."
There is also evidence that many voters here have not yet tuned in. Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said a statewide poll last month showed an increase in the number of undecided voters compared with a January survey.
Smith also found that a plurality of Democratic primary voters appear to believe that Bush will ultimately win re-election.
"So, in the minds of many primary voters, none of the folks running right now are seen as able to beat Bush," Smith said. "That is the real test."
D'Allesandro and other experts say that Gephardt and Lieberman appear to be lagging in New Hampshire because their more cautious, moderate appeals have failed to ignite the more liberal activists who have been flocking to Dean. Edwards, they add, has not established a presence in the state, while Graham remains an unknown quantity to most voters here.
Kerry, meanwhile, boasts a moderately liberal voting record, deep financial pockets and the backing of some significant operatives of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., including her husband, Bill Shaheen.
Despite the strong responses being elicited by Dean as he campaigns in New Hampshire and elsewhere, many experts say that his party first needs to resolve a basic issue.
"Yeah, everyone wants to beat George Bush, but do you beat him by moving to the left . . . or do you try to move to the center . . . to get some of those swing voters?" said Dean Spiliotes, a scholar at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. "The problem is, that hasn't been resolved yet."