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The Race to the White House

Dean Wins a Consolation Prize in Vermont

March 03, 2004|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Howard Dean's home state of Vermont delivered a consoling valentine to the onetime presidential candidate in Tuesday's Democratic primary, handing the former governor his first win of the 2004 campaign.

Dean won the Vermont primary by a margin of more than 20 points over Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, far exceeding the single digits he garnered in the other nine states that voted Tuesday.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was not on the Vermont ballot, having decided to forgo signature-gathering in the state to focus on other contests.

Dean's decisive victory in his home state broke his streak of 29 straight losses at the polls and came two weeks after he ended his insurgent candidacy.

With the win, Dean gets a share of Vermont's 15 delegates at the Democratic convention in July.

When the news came Tuesday night, Dean was attending a banquet for his son's high school hockey team.

Aides said the former governor was moved and gratified.

"This win means so much to me," Dean said in a statement. "Throughout this campaign, I have appreciated the strong support from the people of Vermont. I will never forget the work and the heart that you put into our campaign."

But in case anyone was wondering, Dean quashed any notion that he might reenter the race.

"No, I'm not going to get back in it, but having some delegates is great," he told CNN.

Dean's Vermont supporters made a last push for him in the final days before Tuesday's primary, holding visibility events and waving Dean signs across the state over the weekend.

"They didn't give up," said longtime Dean aide Kate O'Connor. "It's really heart-warming."

Many Dean backers posting messages on his campaign website said they were moved to tears by Tuesday's results, and several suggested taking up a new slogan: "Don't Blame Vermont."

As the election returns came in, about 100 gathered to celebrate at Nectar's, a restaurant and bar in downtown Burlington that hosts the monthly Dean Meetups. There, they drank microbrews, munched on Nectar's famous fries with gravy and mused about the campaign that could have been.

"Part of the reason we pushed so hard for the effort tonight was to say thank you to him," said Andrea Stander, 51, who worked as a volunteer county coordinator.

"I think that people very clearly wanted to send a message to the Democratic Party and eventual nominee that we have really strong concerns and we're very organized."

Brattleboro resident Bill Bandish called the win "a bittersweet celebration."

"There are a lot of free thinkers here," said Bandish, 51, who works for a local Internet firm. "They're not being duped by the rest of the nation into blithely following [President] Bush or Kerry."

For some, Tuesday night also marked a personal celebration.

Erik Stier, 21, who worked as a field organizer for Dean, said the campaign inspired him to go into politics. After Dean dropped out, Stier worked as campaign manager for a City Council candidate.

That candidate also lost, but Stier said he is undeterred. On Friday, he's driving down to Washington to pursue work there.

"This was possibly the most amazing experience of my life," Stier said. "Many young people I know are incredibly motivated by the work that Dean did, and we're not going to give up."

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