Everyone’s an expert on Dean

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(Host) Vermonters are routinely asked about Howard Dean, now that he’s considered the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Newspapers and television and radio programs are in constant search of someone to talk to about Dean – and friends and relatives want the home state perspective on the candidate.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, most Vermonters are happy to talk.

(Zind) A year ago, if you used “Vermont” in a word association game, it’s likely the come back would be something like “snow” or “maple syrup.” Not any longer. Like it or not, as a Vermonter, in the minds of those from away, you’re associated with Howard Dean.

You’re expected to be a Howard Dean expert, prepared to answer any question about the candidate.

(Woman) “I have been asked a lot. I had friends in town this weekend, one from Pennsylvania, one from France and they wanted to know my opinion, sort of expecting me to have some complex answer. I’ve only lived in Vermont two years.”

(Zind) At the time Dean burst out of the thicket of Democratic candidates, precious little had appeared about him in the national press. For information, the media turned to those who had been friends, foes and observers of Dean during his years as governor.

(Freyne) “To start finding out a little bit more about this guy that they knew absolutely nothing about other than he has a doctor’s degree and he was governor of the state of Vermont.”

(Zind) Columnist Peter Freyne says he’s fielded dozens of calls about Dean from reporters hungry for information. For years Freyne has been writing about Dean in his weekly column in the Burlington based alternative newspaper Seven Days. Now Freyne’s name is appearing next to Dean’s in newspapers across the nation.

(Freyne) “Its a lot of fun. It’s interesting, it’s being right in the thick of things. I enjoy it, I’m happy to talk.”

(Zind) There’s no question the people toiling in Vermont’s cottage industry of Howard Dean experts have been enjoying themselves. John McClaughry has says he’s tallied 33 calls from reporters since early July.

(McClaughry) “It was certainly flattering to have the national media folks calling you and showing you great deference to your opinion.”

(Zind) The former Republican state legislator says it was clear at the beginning that the reporters were in uncharted territory.

(McClaughry) “It’s like they were going to Lower Slobavia or somewhere to find out about the local tribal chieftan.”

(Zind) Every time a Dean comment sets off a political tremor, the seismic waves reach political science professor Eric Davis at Middlebury College. Davis is probably the most frequently quoted Vermont Dean watcher.

(Davis) “Some days there were multiple calls often coming in simultaneously. Probably the best example of that is the day that former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. At about ten minutes of five my office phone, my cell phone all started ringing simultaneously.”

(Zind) There’s another reason why Vermonters are peppered with questions about Dean. Because Vermont is such a small state, there’s an expectation that everyone living here has actually met the former governor at one time or another. Davis says that’s something he’s often asked about when he travels.

(Davis) “The first thing people say when they hear I’m from Vermont is, ‘Oh, the scenery is beautiful there, but you do have a lot of snow in the winter.’ And then the next thing they say is, ‘Do you know Howard Dean?’ And in response to that sort of question I can say, ‘Yes, I do!'”

(Zind) Davis says the flood of calls from the news media has slowed in the last couple of weeks. He chalks it up to the holidays. John McClaughry has a more fatalistic view. He says the party’s over now that the national media has learned what there is to know about Howard Dean and Vermont.

(McClaughry) “It’s sort of disappointing that I’m not going to be famous for much longer, now. They’ve all extracted what they want from me and moved on.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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