- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s recent comments about his desire to connect with Southern white voters, however clumsily put, were right on target, political analysts say.

The flap began when Mr. Dean told Iowa’s Des Moines Register newspaper that “I want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” remarks that the Democratic presidential hopeful defended in a debate last week, saying he simply wanted to appeal to as many voters as possible. He later issued an apology.

The remarks by Mr. Dean stereotyped white Southerners and is likely to be counterproductive in attracting such voters, said Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute for Government at Mississippi State University.

But Mr. Wiseman added that the point Mr. Dean was trying to make — “that the Democrats have forgotten about the South” — was true.

“I was surprised Mr. Dean was that perceptive, but he wasn’t in the way he said it,” Mr. Wiseman said.

No Democrat since the Civil War has won the White House without winning at least several states of the former Confederacy, and the last three victorious Democrats — Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon B. Johnson — were all Southerners themselves.

Merle Black, professor of political studies at Emory University in Atlanta, said Mr. Dean’s use of stereotypical Southern images, a matter on which North Carolina Sen. John Edwards called him in last week’s debate, will hurt him in the early-primary state of South Carolina if his rivals use it effectively.

Mr. Black said Mr. Dean’s efforts are probably futile.

“He was targeting a group he won’t be able to get, and he alienated a group he needs, which is African Americans,” Mr. Black said.

Despite criticism leveled during the debate by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the statement wasn’t offensive to blacks, said Donna Brazile, chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute.

“I think some of the candidates overreacted to what Dr. Dean was trying to say, and they know what he was trying to say,” said Miss Brazile, who is black. “And to prolong the discussion about it the way they did was disingenuous on their part.”

She said the South has enormous potential for Democrats and Mr. Dean might be the right candidate to put together a strong “white-black coalition.”

“He can be competitive in the South,” Miss Brazile said. “He is for a balanced budget and fiscally conservative, yet he supports guns and the death penalty.”

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, believes Democrats could thrive in the South if they would only acknowledge the changes in the region.

However, he said, “Howard Dean knows as much about the South as hogs do about Sunday” — the customary slaughter day.

Mr. Black and Mr. Wiseman also see little promise for the Dean campaign south of the Mason-Dixon line.

“I don’t think Dean will do well in the South,” Mr. Wiseman said.

Still, the comments do not seem to have hurt Mr. Dean’s campaign. One of the largest unions in the country, the Service Employees International Union, endorsed him last week, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is set to follow the SEIU’s lead this week.


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