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Dean Launches Organization to Push 'Progressive Values'

The political action group will work to elect Kerry but its founder's mission lies beyond that.

March 19, 2004|Matea Gold and Lynn Marshall | Times Staff Writers

SEATTLE — Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose roller-coaster presidential bid dominated the early months of the 2004 campaign, returned to the public stage Thursday to launch a new organization formed in the spirit of his insurgent candidacy.

Democracy for America, which shares the same initials as Dean's now-defunct campaign, will be a political action committee dedicated to spreading his brand of politics at the local, state and national level.

In a speech before an enthusiastic crowd here, Dean promised to soon endorse Sen. John F. Kerry, but said his group would have a broader mission beyond electing a Democratic president in November.

"The truth is, there is only one man who can beat George Bush, and that man is John Kerry," he said. "And I intend to do everything I can to put him in the White House, but that is not enough."

Dean said Democracy for America would function as a sort of incubator for candidates who share a commitment to what he called "progressive values" -- expanding healthcare and early childhood education, promoting fiscal responsibility in government and ending the influence of moneyed special interests.

Roy Neel, who served as Dean's campaign manager in the final weeks of his campaign, will temporarily run the political action committee without pay.

Dean called it "a strong grass-roots organization dedicated to putting the strength back in the Democratic Party." The group will work to elect Democrats to Congress, and support the members who backed Dean's presidential bid.

But it will primarily focus on cultivating people to run for local offices such as school board, city council and county commissioner, the former governor said in an interview.

The PAC will provide candidates with a "Campaign in a Box" toolkit and website consulting, he said, noting it was a technique the Republicans have used effectively.

"Ten years ago, [former Christian Coalition president] Ralph Reed began this process of trying to move people into local positions, and he was very successful in doing that, which is why the country has moved so far to the right," Dean said. "We want to move it back."

Some Democrats fret that in his new role as a Kerry supporter, Dean's candor could harm the presumptive Democratic nominee. This week, Dean caused a stir on a conference call arranged by the Kerry campaign when he said Bush's decision to invade Iraq "apparently has been a factor" in the recent bombings in Spain.

Dean said later that he was referring to a videotaped statement by a purported Al Qaeda spokesman who said the Madrid bombings were retaliation for the war in Iraq.

Republicans denounced him as "out of the mainstream" and Kerry said he did not share Dean's position.

On Thursday, Dean called the incident a matter of "bad journalism" and said he was taken out of context.

And Kerry's campaign said it looks forward to working with him, with spokeswoman Laura Capps calling him "a strong partner."

"We definitely see him as somebody who mobilizes voters in a way that's very positive," she said.

Despite concerns about his outspokenness, Dean still engenders fierce loyalty among his supporters, who greeted his announcement Thursday with jubilant postings on his new website about "Dean 2.0" and cheers at a morning rally at a downtown Seattle hotel.

In a crowd of more than 500 people, some carried homemade placards like "Howard Dean: he's not just for president anymore" and "Campaign has ended; the movement has just begun."

"If you are going keep this up -- watch, I'll scare my staff -- I'll have to get back in the race," a beaming Dean said.

"That was a joke," he shouted over the cheers. "I'm only joking!"

It remains unclear what role Dean and his supporters will play in Kerry's campaign.

Before he dropped out, the then-rival belittled the Massachusetts senator as "a handmaiden of special interests." The two sat down together for the first time last week at Kerry's campaign headquarters, an encounter that both sides described as friendly.

"The things we focused on in the primary were the differences we have; the things we focus on in the general are what we have in common," Dean said in the interview.

But he said that it might take some time for his fans to feel the same way.

"The fact is there are some of my supporters that are uncomfortable with Sen. John Kerry," Dean acknowledged on Fox News on Thursday.

"Some of those folks need some time and ... John Kerry needs to show them that he's going to be the kind of president that they'd like to have," he added.

"But I'm firmly in John Kerry's corner."

*

Gold reported from Washington, D.C., Marshall from Seattle.

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