Dean’s presidential campaign gets publicity

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(Host) Over the last several weeks, Governor Howard Dean has been riding a wave of publicity for his long-shot presidential campaign. The publicity is part of Dean’s strategy that has moved him into the top tier of Democratic candidates. In the first story of a two-part report, Vermont Public Radio looks at the national publicity Dean has received.

VPR’s John Dillon reports on Dean’s work in Iowa, the first battleground of the 2004 campaign.

(Dillon) Dick Myers is the minority leader in the Iowa House. A lifelong Democrat, Myers ran a truck stop for years and now sells Harley Davidson motorcycles. Myers is also a key power broker in Iowa, a state that plays an important role in the presidential nomination process. In May, Myers held a reception for Dean at his home near Iowa City and has seen the Vermont governor several times over the past few months.

(Myers) “Well, if he comes back any more we might let him vote.”

(Dillon) Myers is one of dozens of Democatic party activists that Dean has courted in his seven trips to Iowa. Myers says politics in Iowa is a matter of personal contact, not big advertising campaigns.

(Myers) “People run for president in Iowa the way you run for county sheriff. You have to sit down and talk to folks in their living rooms and so on. It’s small groups, 10-15 people like that. It is a matter of people actually meeting the candidate. Nobody knew who Jimmy Carter was either. I remember I started working for him in 1975. He sat down in living rooms, talked to people, went to rallies, and introduced himself and started to build an organization. It’s a very grassroots kind of thing.”

(Dillon) The Iowa caucuses are 18 months away. Myers and other Democrats are still shopping around for a favorite candidate. And this year, Iowa voters are already focused on important races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Still, Dean gets a lot of news coverage every time he shows up in the Hawkeye state. Mike Glover covers Iowa politics for the Associated Press. He says Dean is counting on doing better than expected in party caucuses:

(Glover) “His expectations will be low in Iowa because he’s not from this part of the country, he’s not very well known. So he can play the expectation game, and maybe if he does a little bit better than people think, he gets a nice little bump coming out of here. And then if he does well in New Hampshire and South Carolina hmm Maybe people will take a second look at him as we head into the bigger states. That’s his strategy. And I’ve heard dumber strategies for running for president.”

(Dillon) While Dean hopes to build on momentum gained in Iowa, it’s hardly a sure bet. The Democrats have scheduled their key primaries close together early in 2004. That means there’s very little time after the Iowa caucuses for a candidate to raise money for the big battleground states like New York and California. Dave Yepsen is a political columnist for the Des Moines Register and saw Jimmy Carter succeed in 1976. He’s not sure history will repeat itself:

(Yepsen) “Carter operated in a vacuum in a lot of ways in ’75 and ’76. Whereas Howard Dean is in Iowa a lot, there are other candidates who are coming around, caucus goers are more savvy. They’ll listen, they like what they hear but they’re not making commitments at this point. So I’m not sure he can replicate completely the Carter model.”

(Dillon) But Yepsen also makes the point that Iowa is a good fit for Dean’s style of campaigning. He says the governor does well in small groups:

(Yepsen) “I’ve noticed presidential candidates who come from larger states where it’s really a media game, a governor of California, for example. They have a little trouble doing the one-on-one and the retail stuff. But running for president in Iowa is no different than running for governor in Vermont. It’s up close and it’s personal and it’s a lot of retail work. And if he can do that there, I assume he can do that here.”

(Dillon) Dean also must become better known and show people that he can look and sound presidential. Last week’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” boosted his name recognition. Coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post have added to his credibility. Yepsen says Vermonters may be too close to Dean to realize the impression he makes elsewhere:

(Yepsen) “People out here put a different frame around these guys than they do back home. I noticed this when Carter first ran. The Atlanta Constitution had a headline: ‘Jimmy Carter is running for what?’ People in Georgia just didn’t see him as a president of the United States. Yet he comes to Iowa, looks around and people say, yeah he might make a good president. I think the same thing may be happening with Howard Dean.”

(Dillon) But Dean trails far behind in the fundraising race, compared to his likely rivals like former vice president Al Gore, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

Related link: Dean discusses presidential campaign strategy

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