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Dean's in the Race Officially

The former Vermont governor, who's been running for president for more than a year, formally kicks off his 2004 campaign by assailing Bush.

June 24, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

BURLINGTON, Vt. — After months of crusading as an antiwar candidate, Democrat Howard Dean sought to recast his presidential campaign Monday with a fiery speech in his hometown that struck anti-corporate and anti-Washington themes but made just glancing reference to Iraq.

Standing in shirt sleeves beneath a punishing midday sun, Dean accused President Bush of dividing Americans by race, gender, class and sexual orientation and pursuing a foreign policy that has turned the United States from a moral leader into an international bully.

Dean ignored his rivals in the race to oppose Bush, omitting his frequent barb about hailing from "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

"Today, our nation is in crisis," the former governor told a crowd of more than 2,000 people that filled several blocks of downtown Burlington's commercial promenade.

"This crisis manifests itself in this president's destruction of the idea of community.... He advocates policies which beggar the middle class and [force local governments to] raise property taxes so that income taxes may be cut for those who ran Enron."

The event was billed as the formal launch of Dean's presidential campaign -- now underway for more than a year -- and he showed the energy and passion that have vaulted him from obscurity into the top tier of Democratic hopefuls. He waved his arms, stabbed the air with his index finger and shouted in a rat-a-tat cadence that drew repeated ovations from a crowd that also jeered and hissed every mention of Bush.

However, Dean did not repeat his strong opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which has distinguished him from the leading Democratic candidates and fueled the rise of his insurgent candidacy, especially among activists in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The closest Dean came was a condemnation of "the doctrine of preemptive war espoused by this administration."

"The president's group of narrow-minded, ideological advisors are undermining our nation's greatness in the world," Dean said. "They have embraced a form of unilateralism that is even more dangerous than isolationism. This administration has shown disdain for allies, treaties and international organizations alike. In doing so, they would throw aside our nation's role as the inspirational leader of the world."

Strategists for the Dean campaign said Monday's shift in focus was an attempt to show that he was "a lot more than just the antiwar candidate," as press spokeswoman Tricia Enright put it.

"It's an opportunity to present a whole picture," she added.

Although Dean's announcement of his candidacy was hardly news, the event drew dozens of reporters and television cameras to this small, rural state, providing perhaps the largest audience he has had since he started campaigning for president by visiting Iowa in February 2002.

Dean, 54, said his travels since then turned up "a profound fear and distrust of multinational corporations," and a sense of powerlessness among individuals who feel disenfranchised by the sway of special interests.

"We in politics have not given people a reason to vote or a reason to participate," Dean said. "We have slavishly spewed sound bites, copying each other while saying little. We raise millions of dollars and each year make lofty promises, while every year the struggles of ordinary Americans increase and fewer Americans vote."

The quaint, small-town setting underscored Dean's populist theme and provided an intimate atmosphere for the day's festivities. Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., the Vermont-based ice cream maker, sold one-day-only sundaes -- "Maple Powered Howard" -- at its six company-owned stores in the state.

But not everyone got into the spirit on an unusually muggy 90-degree day.

A mischief-maker in the crowd ruined the TV-friendly backdrop -- a church clock tower over Dean's shoulder -- by waving a huge Green Party sign in the middle distance. And Ben Cohen -- half of the ice cream partnership -- let it be known that, special sundae notwithstanding, he was supporting Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich in the Democratic race.

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