Dean begins 5-day Iowa bus tour

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean plans to barnstorm across Iowa by bus during the next five days. Dean kicked off the tour Wednesday night in Des Moines with the help from some well known friends.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Over the next five days, the so called “People Powered Road Trip – America’s at the Wheel” will visit every corner of the state. Dean will be joined on the tour by actor Martin Sheen, director Rob Reiner and Iowa senator Tom Harkin.

Wednesday night the Dean campaign held a kick off rally for the tour in the state tourism building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. The building resembled an ice hockey arena with hundreds of “Dean for President” signs plastered on the walls.

Sheen and Reiner were the warm up acts for the roughly 500 people who attended the event. Sheen, who plays the president in the TV drama West Wing, easily slipped into his fictional character:

(Sheen) “I’m so glad to come here in my capacity as the acting president of the United States and I’m honored to declare next Monday – January 19 – as Howard Dean Day in Iowa!”

(Kinzel) Reiner, who was an early financial backer of Dean’s, delivered a stinging criticism of President Bush:

(Reiner) “George Bush told us he was a uniter not a divider. He lied. He told us he would leave no child behind. He lied. He told us there were weapons of mass destruction and there was a connection between Hussein and al Qaeda. He lied. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of the lies and I want a man who can stand toe to toe with George Bush and take this country back, and that man is Howard Dean!”

(Kinzel) Then, as the music of the Irish rock band U2 blared on the loudspeakers, a huge garage door opened allowing a large white bus to enter the building with a waving Howard Dean standing in front of the passenger seat. This is the bus that will travel several thousand miles in the next five days.

Dean told the enthusiastic crowd that there’s a big difference between his campaign and those of his three main competitors in Iowa – Congressman Richard Gephardt, and Senators John Edwards and John Kerry:

(Dean) “I’ll tell you right now – I personally like John Edwards, John Kerry and I like Dick Gephardt, but they weren’t there when it was necessary to stand up to this president of the United States and say ‘no’ on the war in Iraq. And I like John Edwards, John Kerry and Dick Gephardt, but they weren’t there when it came to stand up on No Child Left Behind. These aren’t bad people but they’re Washington people. They’re not like Tom Harkin, who spent 20 years in the United States Senate saying ‘no’ to special interests and against corporations and big corporate agriculture. That’s who we need in Washington – the kind of people with guts!”

(Kinzel) The goal of the Dean campaign is to energize its base support in Iowa at each of the rallies that are scheduled in the next five days so that Dean can emerge as the winner of Monday night’s caucuses.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Des Moines, Iowa.

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