Supporters say Dean energizes Party despite losses

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(Host) Howard Dean searched for votes across Wisconsin on Monday, even as his presidential campaign was rocked by the departure of its chairman. Dean’s campaign seemed to be searching for a way to maintain visibility and organization even if he formally drops out of the race later this week.

VPR’s John Dillon reports from Madison.

(Dillon) In what may be one of the last days of his presidential campaign, Dean flew across Wisconsin for several rallies with voters. Dean lags in the polls here. And on Monday his chairman quit after he said he was reaching out to rival John Kerry. Dean told reporters that he’ll announce after the voting ends on Tuesday where he’ll take his campaign. He says it’s too early to write the campaign’s obituary.

But Dean supporters hope that the grassroots energy and the hundreds of thousands of people who rallied for Dean will become a force for change in the Democratic party and in the country. Steve McMahon is a media advisor for Dean.

(McMahon) “I think both the Party and the Kerry campaign are pretty well aware of the assets Howard Dean would bring to the table. It’s not just the 600,000 people who have signed up to support him. He’s bringing new people into the process. He’s energizing the Party. He’s giving it back its voice and its soul and that’s something that this Party needs and it’s needed it for a long time. And Howard Dean provided it. And I think the Kerry campaign and the DNC recognize that and should figure out the best way – should John Kerry be the nominee – to maintain the energy and the enthusiasm of the Dean campaign all across the country.”

(Dillon) John Nichols, editorial writer and columnist for the Capital Times in Madison, says the challenge is to maintain the movement without a candidate.

(Nichols) “If he can figure out a way to keep that core of people engaged and to use that energy in an effective way, he could be a very long term presence in American politics.”

(Dillon) Dean has brought thousands of people into politics for the first time. Outside his Madison headquarters, Emily Scott says she and 20 other volunteers worked until three in the morning Monday for the former Vermont governor. The 20-year-old University of Wisconsin student wears several Dean stickers on her hand-knit scarf. She says Dean remains her inspiration.

(Scott) “People like this who can keep being energized when the media keeps telling us it’s over, it’s over. It’s not over. And we’re still going to keep going. We’re going to keep going as long as Howard Dean wants us to go.”

(Dillon) Scott says she’ll probably vote for John Kerry, if he wins the nomination, but she’d never volunteer for him.

(Scott) “I’ll work for someone I believe. That’s what kids like me are all about. We don’t think in terms of ‘anybody but Bush.’ We think in terms of who’s the best candidate.”

(Dillon) Dean holds a final rally Monday night in Madison. Scott and other volunteers say it will be a celebration of democracy, what she says the campaign is all about.

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

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