Dean draws crowds as he campaigns for Kerry

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(Host) As the presidential race enters its closing days, Howard Dean is campaigning non-stop for Democratic nominee John Kerry. As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, Dean has been drawing large and enthusiastic crowds.

(Crowd chanting) “Howard! Howard!”

(Zind) The enthusiasm for Howard Dean at a recent Democratic rally in Burlington exceeded anything Dean saw in his years as Vermont Governor. The reception wasn’t unusual. Dean has been drawing rapturous crowds at speaking engagements across the country. Last month, nearly 900 people turned out to hear him speak at Brown University in Rhode Island.

(Daryl West) “And they gave him a standing ovation when he entered the room and a standing ovation at the end of his speech.”

(Zind) Daryl West is professor of Political Science at Brown. West says some candidates defeated in primary elections pack up and go home. Dean has stayed active, volunteering to help the Kerry campaign. And the campaign has used him extensively.

(Laura Gross) “He’s traveling all over the country.”

(Zind) Laura Gross is Dean’s spokeswoman.

(Gross) “He’s been in Connecticut, he’s been in New York City, he’s been in Washington D.C., in Boston, in San Francisco, Pittsburgh…”

(Zind) Gross says Dean has been attending get-out-the-vote events and visiting college campuses.

Daryl West says Dean’s strength lies in his ability to excite die-hard Democrats, rather than sway undecided voters.

(West) “Kerry has used him in states and with audiences that are very receptive to a solid Democratic message.”

(Zind) West says Dean’s image has been rehabilitated in the wake of the much-publicized scream the night of the Iowa caucuses and his losses in the primaries.

Locked in a contentious neck and neck presidential election, many Democrats credit Dean with helping to energize the party. They seem to like him better in a supporting role than as a candidate. Now that he’s no longer running, Dean appears to enjoy displaying the unbridled energy and barbed remarks that once caused him trouble.

(Dean) “I like John Edwards. Don’t you think he did a great job in the debate the other night? God, if Cheney had unwrapped his cape, his fangs would have showed, it was unbelievable! (Laughter.) I know that wasn’t very Presidential but I’m not running anymore, I can do what I want!” (Laughter and applause.)

(Zind) Republicans still consider Dean to be a polarizing political figure and potent campaign advertising fodder. At least two campaigns are using the so-called Dean scream in Iowa in ads attacking candidates that Dean has backed.

Dean has also been campaigning on behalf of a group of candidates endorsed by his Democracy for America organization. In all, Democracy for America has backed 101 candidates nationally. To date, eight have dropped out or lost their elections. The rest will find out Tuesday if Dean’s support helps carry them to victory.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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