Dean wins little noticed Washington DC primary

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(Host) Howard Dean’s first primary victory on Tuesday came in a contest that received scant attention from the campaigns of the Democratic candidates for president. Dean garnered 43 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia, compared to 34 percent for Al Sharpton.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, because of the unusual nature of the primary, it’s hard to draw conclusions from the results.

(Zind) Stephen Wayne says there was little build up to the District of Columbia’s first in the nation primary on Tuesday.

(Wayne) “There was very little publicity attached to it. I live in the District and I got one circular on it. Even the Washington Post didn’t spend much time on it.”

(Zind) Wayne is a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. He calls the vote a blip on the primary screen and says it really doesn’t mean much: First because it was non-binding, and secondly because the only actively campaigning candidates on the ballot were Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich. Write-ins were not allowed.

The other major candidates, those considered closest to frontrunner Dean in the polls, withdrew from the primary at the urging of the Democratic National Committee in an effort to maintain New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status.

But Wayne says Dean’s strong showing with the predominantly African-American voters of Washington D.C. does indicate that Sharpton’s recent criticism of Dean hasn’t worked.

(Wayne) “If we draw any conclusion It’s that the message that Al Sharpton directed at Dean in the last debate, ‘you haven’t appointed people of color to your cabinet when you were governor, you have no distinguished record on civil rights, you’re a Johnny-Come-Lately to this. That has not translated into an African-American backlash against Howard Dean.”

(Zind) Wayne says it’s too early to tell if Dean’s showing in the District of Columbia primary means he’ll do well with African-American voters nationally. He says it’s possible many voters went to the polls in simply to protest the city’s lack of representation in Congress. Local politicians had encouraged people to turnout as a way to draw attention to the issue.

But Washington based journalist Jonetta Rose Barras thinks the primary results are significant – and voters went to the polls because Dean is a popular candidate.

(Barras) “I think what it showed for Dean was that he is capable of actually attracting an urban, multi-racial population like the one in Washington, D.C. It also shows that Al Sharpton maintains an appeal among minority voters, which we knew, but Al Sharpton had to do a lot of work to get his 34 percent.”

(Zind) Because the election was non-binding, Washington D.C. delegates to the Democratic convention will be selected at caucuses next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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