Leahy leads buses of Dean supporters to New Hampshire

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(Host) Vermonters packed several buses to New Hampshire over the weekend to help boost the candidacy of Howard Dean at a critical time. Their message to the Granite Staters: Dean has brought a lot of voters to the party and he’s still the one. Senator Patrick Leahy led the caravan that started in Burlington.

VPR’s Lynne McCrea reports.

(McCrea) It’s been dubbed “The Leahy Express,” an effort organized about a month ago to bring hometown support to Dean’s critical New Hampshire race. Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle are serving as hosts to the 160 or so Vermonters who’ve volunteered for the trip.

(Leahy) “I talked to Howard a couple days ago and he’s really feeling good about all the Vermonters coming down. And the interesting thing is we’ve ended up with more people than we thought we would. So, it’s good!”

(McCrea) The Vermont contingent includes about 30 current or former state legislators, and other elected officials, such as Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle.

(Clavelle) “I’m in for a day of working for Howard Dean, and letting the people of New Hampshire know that Howard’s a great man. He was a great governor, and he’ll make a great president.”

(McCrea) Other volunteers, like Parker Croft, say this is just one more step in a show of support for Dean.

(Croft) “He tells the truth. It’s so great to have a candidate who tells the truth. If you want what he offers, then you’re getting what you vote for. That’s rare.”

(McCrea) After a three-hour bus ride, several hundred volunteers and campaign workers jam into Dean’s Concord offices, where Senator Leahy rallies the crowd.

(Leahy) “Remember, he’s brought out an awful lot more people back to our party, and into our party, than we’ve seen since I was a college student. I’m serious, this is very, very important. We have the right message with this candidate. Let’s do it!”

(Canvasser knocking on doors) “My name is Diana, we’re here from Vermont.”

(Response) “We’re all set right now.”
(Diana) “Okay, thank you…”

(McCrea) As the Vermonters canvas the streets, they face not only brutally cold temperatures, but another challenge: many residents have been visited before.

(Peggy Sapphire) “I have this feeling that people are worn out! You know, they see us coming, we’re not exactly inconspicuous.”

(McCrea) Peggy Sapphire of Craftsbury and Judy Bevans of Albany met each other as Dean volunteers, and have come here on their own this weekend.

(Sapphire) “We made a commitment for these last four days.”

(McCrea) Bevans has been canvassing in New Hampshire since the summer.

(Bevans) “Either I give up a Saturday, or I give up four years. And I’d rather give up a few Saturdays for Howard Dean.”

(McCrea) Back at the Dean offices, state representatives David Sharpe and Floyd Nease are just back from canvassing:

(Sharpe) “Very receptive, lot of good support for Dean, with some undecided.”
(Nease) “For the most part, the folks who are committed to Dean are strongly committed to Dean. There was one gentleman who had switched to Kerry and was not persuadable otherwise.”

(McCrea) Another group of volunteers – 15 Leahy staffers from Washington, D.C. – give their assessment.

“Lot of people talk about what happened in Iowa, and saying they don’t care. And they really liked the Diane Sawyer PrimeTime interview.”

(McCrea) Meanwhile, Judy Bevans and Peggy Sapphire connect with a registered Republican who’s disgruntled.

(Voter) “I thought Bush was the guy, but I was wrong.
(Judy) “And now you like Dean?”
(Voter) “Yeah, I plan on writing him in.”

(McCrea) The two Vermont women will keep knocking on doors and ringing bells through Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea.

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