(Host) Several prominent Vermonters traveled to southern New Hampshire on Wednesday to support Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. The Democrats also tried to serve as a truth squad of sorts and worked to dispel negative impressions about the former governor’s temperament and character.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) Madeleine Kunin served six years as Vermont governor in the 1980s. For two of her terms, Howard Dean was her lieutenant governor. In his own five terms as governor, Dean worked to greatly expand health care and land conservation programs that Kunin started.
But when Kunin appeared before reporters in Derry New Hampshire on Wednesday, her first statement had nothing to do with Dean’s 11-year record as governor of Vermont.
(Kunin) “What we’d really like to say that some of the issues that have come up in this campaign never came up in Vermont. The issue of temperament or his temper was not an issue, because it never really did any damage to the work he was doing as governor.”
(Dillon) Kunin was joined by two Democratic state senators and Kathy Hoyt, who served as Dean’s chief of staff and administration secretary. They were in New Hampshire to shore up Dean support, and to offer their own perspective on Dean’s record and his style of governing.
Former Governor Kunin described Dean as straightforward, unfiltered and committed to health care and women’s issues. Hoyt, who was his closest aide, said she sometimes had to step in to smooth over feathers ruffled by Dean’s hard-charging style. She also tried to dispel the impression that Dean is a far-left liberal.
And Windsor Democratic Senator Peter Welch acknowledged that he and other state Democrats fought hard with Dean over budget issues.
(Welch) “In fact, over the years, when he was fighting to extend health care but also lower taxes because they were high from the early 1990s. There were a lot of Democrats, myself at times included, who were frustrated at his insistence that we balance the bottom line.”
(Dillon) The Vermonters’ trip to New Hampshire comes as Dean is under increasing attack from his Democratic opponents. At the town hall meeting in Derry, Dean repeatedly reminded voters that he was the first to speak out against the Iraq war. That early opposition energized the Democratic base in Iowa and New Hampshire and launched Dean’s surge in the polls.
Now, with his lead slipping slightly, the former governor made clear he was ready to fire back at his Democratic rivals.
(Dean) “It is true that some of our opponents have tried to turn me into a pin cushion. And I don’t plan to be a pin cushion I got my start in this race by standing up to George Bush when he supported a war that 70 percent of the people agreed with him on because he didn’t tell the truth with how he got there. And I’m going to finish this campaign in New Hampshire and we’re going to win by continuing to remind people that when it was important to stand up to George Bush, only one candidate in this race dared to do it.”
(Dillon) At the next stop on his campaign swing – a small college in Nashua – a pair of voters behind the rope line wait to shake Dean’s hand. The couple seems to illustrate what may be a tightening race in New Hampshire. Bill Ayre is a committed Dean supporter. His wife, Jeanine, has a different choice.
(Jeanine Ayre) “Well, I’m thinking about Clark, actually.”
(Dillon) She says she’s worried that a former governor from a small state lacks the foreign policy experience to be president.
(Jeanine Ayre) “I thought that Clark had more experience with the international community.”
(Dillon) Dean left for Iowa in the early afternoon, for a final campaign blitz leading up to Monday’s caucus vote.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Nashua, New Hampshire.