Dean supporters asked to vote on public financing

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is asking his supporters to decide if he should reject public financing for his campaign. The online poll will take place over the next two days and Dean says he’ll live with whatever decision his backers make.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When Howard Dean launched his presidential campaign 10 months ago, he was committed to the public financing system because he had doubts that he’d be able to raise substantial amounts of money on his own. But as the Democratic race has progressed, Dean has emerged as the leading fundraiser and he now views public funds in a very different light.

If he takes public funds, his campaign spending will be capped at roughly $45 million between now and the Democratic convention in July. Dean is very concerned that he’ll need most of the money just to win the Democratic nomination, leaving him very little money to spend between April and July at a time when President Bush, who is not taking public funds, plans to spend $200 million.

Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis is convinced that Dean will decide to opt out of the public financing system:

(Davis) “I believe that they probably made a decision for strategic reasons that it would be better to raise money privately a few weeks ago. And now what they’re trying to do is to get their supporters to vote yes in an online poll which would legitimize the decision that the campaign strategists already made several weeks ago.”

(Kinzel) Brown University political science professor Daryl West called the online poll a creative gimmick to deal with a serious political problem. West is also convinced that Dean will reject public financing and he says the on line poll is a great fundraising opportunity for Dean:

(West) “Once his donors tell him to opt out of the process, which is what everybody is anticipating, then he can immediately go back and say, Okay you gave me $10, you gave me $15, you gave me $25 – double it. Put your money where your mouth is. If you’re serious about getting rid of Bush you have to help bankroll my campaign.”

(Kinzel) Dean on Wednesday also tried to defuse a recent controversy involving his campaign. Dean told his supporters in a speech in New York City that he regrets causing pain with his discussion about the Confederate flag. In an interview last week, Dean said “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pick up trucks.”

In a campaign debate on Tuesday night in Boston, several candidates strongly criticized Dean for those comments. Professor West doubts the incident is a serious blow to Dean’s campaign, but:

(West) “I think the flap over the Confederate flag illustrates something about Dean, which is he’s very unscripted. This is like the seventh time there’s been some flap over some off-the-cuff comment that he made. And I think he has to understand that he’s playing in the big leagues now and every word that he utters is going to get dissected.”

(Kinzel) Dean actually made a very similar statement at a Democratic National Committee meeting last winter but West says the remark was probably overlooked because of Dean’s low standing in the polls at that time.

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

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