Supporters hope Dean’s Vermont victory will resonate

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(Host) Vermont voters gave Howard Dean the only victory of his campaign in Tuesday’s primary. Now Dean’s supporters say they want to carry the spirit of his campaign to the Democratic convention and beyond.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Although Dean stopped campaigning two weeks ago, his margin of victory in his home state was large. With most precincts reporting, Dean won 58 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

In an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Dean said he was honored by the win.

(Dean) “It’s a really nice homecoming and it kind of underlines what I said when I left, which was if the rest of the country were more like Vermont and had Vermont values the country would be in a lot better shape.”

(Dillon) Some of Dean’s Vermont supporters gathered in a downtown Burlington bar. Franz Reichsman drove up from Brattleboro for the celebration. He says Dean brought backbone to his party and gave the other candidates their best lines.

(Reichsman) “He’s rescued the Democratic Party from the tiptoe trepidation that we were facing over the past couple of years. Nobody knew what to say about George Bush; nobody knew how to go after the current administration. And Howard did, and Howard did it. He taught the other candidates how to do it. I think the success that we’ve seen in the resurgence of the Democratic Party so far belongs in large part to Howard Dean.”

(Dillon) University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson says Dean’s impact may now be seen in the party platform. And he says Kerry will now court Dean’s diehard supporters.

(Nelson) “I think Dean will get a primetime speech at the convention because they want those votes. They want the 600,000-plus so-called ‘Deaniacs’ in their corner. You need every vote. If the 2000 election convinced us of anything, is that every vote counts. They don’t want to lose those people. They don’t want to lose them to Ralph Nader and they want to make sure they show up in November.”

(Dillon) Andrea Stander volunteered for Dean throughout the summer and fall. The Montpelier resident says the former governor’s candidacy energized thousands of new activists, and she predicts many will stay involved in politics, at both the local and national level.

(Stander) “We went to New Hampshire and we went to Iowa and we made phone calls and we sent letters and we did all that work. And we made a big difference. And I think people believe in their own power a lot more now.”

(Dillon) Dean says he’ll continue his campaign for grassroots political change, and he’ll announce more details of that effort in mid-March.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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