Dean finishes third in Iowa caucuses

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean finished third in Monday night’s Iowa caucuses. Despite this disappointing result, Dean says he’s confident he’ll still win the Democratic presidential nomination.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) At 6:30 Monday night, several hundred people crammed into the auditorium of the Callahan school in the western section of Des Moines. As Dean’s precinct captain, June Harding greeted voters at the door, there was a hint of what was about to unfold at the caucus:

(Harding) “So I’m a Dean fan – you’re a Dean fan. Are you precinct 68? They’re signing in over there. Can I ask who you’re supporting? You don’t want one of our buttons, huh?”

(Kinzel) In the first round of voting, Dean fell just short of obtaining 15 percent of the voters – that’s the minimum threshold to remain as a viable candidate at this caucus.

Campaign leaders have two minutes each to convince voters to switch to their candidates. Todd Hunter urges people to support Howard Dean:

(Hunter) “I feel that he is honest about what he says and I feel that – although he might not always say the right thing – I think that he always tries to do the right thing. And I encourage all of you to support Howard Dean. I think that he is the one that can break down what Bush has done and contend against him and beat him and get the Democrats back in the White House.” (Applause)

(Kinzel) But Hunter’s pleadings go unanswered and the Dean delegation faces the choice of being uncounted or aligning with another candidate. It splits in three groups – one backs John Kerry, one supports John Edwards and one caucuses with Dennis Kucinich. Despite receiving 13 percent of the vote at the caucus, Dean receives no delegates.

When the final results from the caucuses come in, Dean finishes third with roughly 18 percent of the vote – far behind John Kerry and John Edwards. Dean tells an enthusiastic crowd of supporters that, despite the evening’s results, the fight for the nomination has just begun:

(Dean) “If you had told us one year ago that we were going to come in third in Iowa, we would have given anything for that. And you know something, you know something, not only are we going to New Hampshire, we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Minnesota and North Dakota and New Mexico and California and Texas and New York and South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we’re going to Washington D.C. to take back the White House. Yeah!” (Dean screams.)

(Kinzel) At the end of the evening, Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi told a group of reporters that a barrage of negative advertising by Congressman Gephardt against Howard Dean had a major impact on the race:

(Trippi) “The mistake we made was twofold. One just in that whole three weeks responding to everything that was coming in we lost our message. And while we were doing that Edwards and John Kerry were sounding more like Howard Dean than themselves. At the same time Gephardt, he was fighting to the death here – fought to the death – and did a lot of damage to us. I mean, look what happened to him and it did a lot of damage to us as well and these two guys are sort of riding clean.”

(Kinzel) Dean has already started to campaign in New Hampshire. He flew back last night and held a rally at the Manchester airport at three o’clock this morning.

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

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