Dean defends Kerry on insult charge

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(Host) Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is defending John Kerry against charges that he insulted soldiers serving in Iraq.

And Dean says if the mid-term elections were held today, Democrats would take back the House and come close in the Senate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Dean met with reporters as Senator John Kerry, the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, came under Republican attack for allegedly insulting U.S. troops.

Dean says Kerry simply made a mistake when he appeared to suggest that students who do badly in school were likely to get stuck in Iraq.

Kerry says he botched a joked about President Bush. And Dean says that such things happen.

(Dean) “Look, it was a blooper. People make bloopers during a campaign. But I think it focuses people back on the president’s outrageous rhetoric, which is if you vote for Democrats it means you want the terrorists to win.”

(Dillon) As governor and as a presidential candidate, Dean was known for his blunt style. He pulled few rhetorical punches at the news conference. He compared President Bush to Richard Nixon, and said both adminstrations have lied and spied on citizens.

(Dean) “They’re both using the IRS for political purposes. They both spy on people they don’t like, not just terrorists but also American citizens. Neither one of them particularly believes in judicial rights. They both have been dishonest with the American people.”

(Dillon) Dean said much could change in a week, but he said he’s optimistic about a Democratic victory on November 7th.

He sketched out a few of the party’s priorities for the next Congress, including a raise in the minimum wage and universal health care for children.

(Dean) “What you will not see is extensive impeachment hearings on anything like that. We’re not interested in going down that road. The road we’re interested in going down is a positive road. If we win this it will be because the American people want a positive new direction. And that does not mean more partisanship and more vindictiveness in the Congress. I think we’ve seen enough of that in the last 6 years and more is not going to help America.”

(Dillon) As chairman, Dean has focused on a 50-state strategy, rather than concentrating on key states where Democrats have a solid chance of victory. Dean’s approach has been criticized by some in the party. The critics have argued that the party first needed to win back Congress before it spread its resources nationwide.

Dean says his strategy will take 10 years to bear fruit, and will not succeed or fail based on one election. But he said if the election was held today, Democrats would win the House and come close to a tie in the Senate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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