Dean makes final effort in Wisconsin

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(Host) With voters ready to make their choice, Howard Dean urged Wisconsin supporters to ignore the polls and the pundits Monday night and to give his sagging campaign a boost. Dean insisted he could win the nomination. Yet some of his grassroots supporters have begun to look beyond today’s primary to consider the impact his campaign has had on American politics.

VPR’s John Dillon reports from Madison.

(Sound of crowd chanting) “We want Dean! We want Dean! We want Dean!”

(Dillon) The crowd packed into an ornate theater just down the street from the Wisconsin Statehouse was as large as many that Dean gathered when his campaign was flying high last fall. And the candidate, his suit coat off and shirt sleeves once again rolled up, delivered a rousing rendition of his stump speech. Only this time, he tailored the message with a plea to Wisconsin voters. He reminded them of the state’s history of supporting progressive politicians.

(Dean) “It’s a big deal. Because Wisconsin is a state where you don’t have to be a rubber stamp for the media and the pollsters. Because Wisconsin is a state that has historically stood up for clean campaign and for standing up for what you believe is right.”

(Dillon) Dean seemed to shrug off the turmoil surrounding his struggling campaign. His campaign chairman resigned on Monday after saying Dean should quit if he lost the Tuesday primary.

The candidate paid tribute instead to the labor unions that supported him and the millions of dollars in small donations that once made his the richest campaign in the contest. Dean also acknowledged the young people, many of whom have entered politics for the first time, who first propelled his candidacy.

(Dean) “I am so proud of all the people between the ages of 18 and 30 who are not only supporting the campaign, but who are driving the campaign. I know every politician comes and says ‘Young people are the foot soldiers of our campaign.’ Young people are running our campaign!”

(Dillon) But with Dean an extreme long-shot to win the nomination, some of his supporters are starting to think of his impact beyond this election. As the crowd streams out of the theater, Anna Marquardt, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate, says the campaign’s energy won’t dissipate, but will take new forms, perhaps by getting people involved in local projects or community work.

(Marquardt) “I think the incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm that he brings to his campaign is going to be channeled into other quarters by the people who’ve been involved in his campaign and the people he’s encouraged to get more involved in their community.”

(Dillon) For Nancy Angsten of Madison, Dean’s speech was the third she’s heard since the campaign began. The disabled former health care worker says if Dean doesn’t win, he should continue to push for political change.

(Angsten) “I think he started a movement, and I don’t think it’s going to stop with this election. I’d like to see him president, but if not, I hope he restructures the whole Democratic Party. People need to feel they’re heard. And we’re not.”

(Dillon) Janice Czyscon of Madison says even if Dean drops out, his political legacy may be change on a more individual level.

(Czyscon) “I think that oftentimes elections like this often are people’s introductions to politics, where they leap into the fray and hopefully stay with it for a lifetime. I think we need all the activists in the world that we can possibly inspire. So that would be the very best that could come out of this.”

(Dillon) For the moment, Dean has no plans for a new campaign swing beyond Wisconsin. His schedule now calls for him to return to Burlington after the votes are counted on Tuesday.

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

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