Walter Freed and Peter Welch: Dean’s prospects

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(Host) When the Legislature adjourned, VPR invited Vermont House Speaker Walter Freed and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch for a conversation in the Talk Studio. In the conclusion to this four-part series, they discuss the presidential prospects of former governor, Howard Dean. Senator Welch begins the conversation:

(Welch) The Dean presidential campaign is incredibly exciting actually. I remember him walking around the statehouse a year ago before he left and I think that there was – skepticism is putting it mildly – just that was impossible for people not just to think that he could do it but that somebody from Vermont would actually be a serious presidential contender. And I just came from his Presidential Headquarters and it is a place that you haven’t seen in Vermont. I mean it’s just filled with these young, incredibly hardworking people on coffee adrenaline that know how to use the internet and they are making this thing happen.

(Freed) I’d add that certainly the Dean campaign adds exposure for Vermont. It’s been a long time since Vermonters were involved in presidential campaigns at anywhere near this level. But at the same time, you know, thinking back, I guess my experience with Governor Dean as a legislator – I didn’t know him when he was a liberal legislator himself – I knew him when he considered himself more of a moderate or fiscal conservative and worked with him on budgets and now that he’s moved out of the statehouse and off to the national scene he seems to have moved back to his roots of the left side. I don’t think that Governor Dean will ever be in that position to be the – I don’t see him as a Democratic nominee on the national stage when the convention finally closes – but I guess the uniqueness of having this close to home is kind of interesting to follow.

(Welch) You know I actually do. There’s an enormous hunger in the Democratic Party for somebody who will challenge the policies of the Bush administration. And it’s interesting but true that Governor Dean has occupied that space. The other Democratic candidates all are out of Washington and they were very tempered in their comments about the war. They’ve been very hesitant in their comments about the Bush tax cuts and I think the rank and file Democrats across the country and certainly in Vermont adamantly oppose the Bush policies on taxes, on the war and generally in foreign policy and Governor Dean is the one who’s speaking out in the most forthright way so he’s going to get an immense amount of support, and I think will get the nomination.

(Freed) But I’d have to think that his support is going to be limited just to the liberal fringe of the Democratic Party. He may say that he’s representing “the” Democratic Party but in the past two years, my meetings with my colleagues at speakers conferences with other Democratic speakers – Democratic speakers from the Northeast let alone Democratic speakers from the Midwest or down South – and they’re not the same Democrats as what I see here in Vermont. They’re far more conservative or moderate. You know I’ve known them to say, you know, “Freed, you know, we’re to the right of you.” So I can see a Democratic Party that is certainly fractured to some degree; that they’re not a liberal as what Howard Dean is offering to them right now and I think he’s going to have a hard time selling that message to all of them. And I think that even from the party’s perspective, they’re going to have a hard time buying that, knowing that the whole country is not that far to the left.

(Welch) Well, it really is going to come down to whether the Republican administration of Bush is too extreme to the right. And the Bush Republican Party in my view doesn’t represent the tradition of the Republican Party here in the state with people like George Aiken or even Jim Douglas for that matter. And I think that Governor Dean is perceived as liberal in the context of the national election where you’ve got a George Bush Republican Party that in my view is quite extreme. So I think Howard Dean, while he’s representing now what he calls now the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is essentially doing it with fairly mainstream positions on fiscal conservatism and social liberalism.

(Freed) You know I would have to disagree with that, that certainly an advocate for lower taxes, for school choice, for you know, empowering families, empowering small businesses, the Bush administration’s agenda is something that the national agenda coincides with. He’s got high favorabilities in the polls and I don’t think if you – if you did a poll today I think George Bush is ahead of Vermont – in Vermont, ahead of Howard Dean, let alone at the national level.

(Welch) Yeah. Today but not tomorrow.

(Freed) We’ll see.

(Host) Democrat Peter Welch is President Pro Tem of the Senate and Republican Walter Freed is Speaker of the Vermont House.

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