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Dean Sweeps Across Nation in an Early Show of Strength

Presidential aspirant's stand against the war in Iraq fires up crowds and donors far beyond the crucial states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

August 26, 2003|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas — From suburban Washington, D.C., to downtown Seattle to President Bush's home state, Howard Dean has sent a message in the last three days to his Democratic presidential rivals with an imposing display of nationwide organizational strength.

Since Saturday night, Dean has crisscrossed the country on a four-day, eight-state, 10-city "Sleepless Summer Tour" that reached Texas on Monday and will end today with a late-night rally in New York City. Almost every event so far has drawn large crowds, and a coordinated drive to raise money through the Internet while Dean is on the road approached its $1-million goal.

"We wanted to demonstrate that we are a national campaign," said Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. "We are running in 50 states and we are doing it right now."

Indeed, the tour underscores Dean's evolution from a dark-horse candidate who typically would be forced to focus limited resources on Iowa and New Hampshire -- the key early contests on the nomination calendar -- into a top-tier contender with the money and popularity to compete across the country.

"I think he is going to be around past Iowa and New Hampshire," said Bill Carrick, a senior strategist for Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), another presidential contender. "He is going to have enough money to take a punch or two and keep going."

Dean still faces resistance from many party leaders who believe he has taken positions too liberal -- such as his unrelenting opposition to the war in Iraq -- to effectively compete against Bush next year.

But his current tour shows how much ground Dean has gained since he began his campaign as the little-known former governor of Vermont, one of the nation's smallest states. His fierce criticism of Bush's march to war with Iraq won him a core of energetic supporters, and he surprised many by raising more money than any of his Democratic opponents in the year's second quarter. Recent polls have put him narrowly ahead in Iowa, viewed as a must-win state for Gephardt, and in New Hampshire, where Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) had been the early favorite.

Dean appears to have gotten a new burst of momentum from the increasing violence and turmoil in Iraq. Following the quick fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime in the spring, most of Dean's rivals believed he would be on the defensive by now for opposing the war. Instead, he's been aggressively contending that the war may have diminished American security by creating chaos in Iraq -- an argument with powerful appeal to many Democrats who opposed the invasion in the first place.

"There is no question he has captured something," Carrick said. "He has been able to take the activist base of the party and convince them he is what they want -- which is a strong anti-Bush, antiwar candidate -- and he has translated that into genuine support."

That was evident the last few days. Rarely has a presidential candidate sought to demonstrate organizational strength in so many parts of the country so far before the first caucuses and primaries.

In part by using the Internet to rally supporters, Dean turned out more than 4,000 people at Saturday's kickoff event in Falls Church, Va., and about 800 in Milwaukee later that day. On Sunday, at least 3,000 turned out to hear him in Portland, Ore., and more than 8,000 greeted him shortly after in Seattle. Another 900 showed up at a Spokane, Wash., rally Monday morning, and about 500 then attended a Dean fund-raiser in Austin. More than 1,000 turned out later for a rally in San Antonio.

The crowd in Seattle was so large that it spilled out of downtown's Westlake Park and filled the surrounding block. Hundreds of people held signs printed by the Dean campaign, while others waved homemade banners. One read: "It's time for the real Democrats to take the party back from the gutless wonders in DC." Another, playing off the new Bravo TV program, read: "Queer Eye for the Dean Guy."

While Dean spoke -- declaring himself "awestruck" by the turnout -- volunteers distributed signs and buttons and collected e-mail addresses. Some in the crowd had waited more than two hours to hear him; many echoed the enthusiasm that Dean aides say has been essential to his early successes.

"If we get involved, turn out this early, it really can happen; we really can change America," said Allison Edgemont, a jewelry designer who attended with her 9-year-old daughter.

In Austin, supporters filled a coffeehouse, roaring with equal enthusiasm at Dean's denunciations of Bush and the other Democrats seeking the White House. "The way to beat this president is not to try to be like him," Dean said, as people yelled out: "Give 'em hell, Howard."

The room erupted the loudest when Dean said, "Most of you know that I am the only leading candidate who did not support the war in Iraq." As the cheers echoed off corrugated walls, he added: "Don't yell so loud. [Bush political advisor] Karl Rove will hear you all the way over in Crawford."

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