- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Minutes after Howard Dean’s campaign announced yesterday’s final campaign gathering in Vermont, the debate was raging online among his supporters: Could they stomach John Kerry?

The verdict: Many won’t.

“I will NOT vote for Kerry — and I’ve voted for the Democratic [Party] in every presidential election since I was 18,” said one person who posted a message at the Dean campaign’s free-flowing Web log.

And just as important, many said they will be furious if Mr. Dean turns over his coveted list of supporters to Mr. Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts who is the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

One person even started an online petition demanding that the campaign not share the information, pointing to its privacy guidelines for signing up at the Web site that said the information would only be shared with “like-minded” organizations.

“There are no other ‘like-minded Democratic candidates and organizations’ in existence,” the petition says, adding that their personal information should “be completely private and not available to any third party or parties.”

At best, Internet backers of Mr. Dean discussed, but not strongly, the possibility of supporting Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Most gave credence to statements Mr. Dean made early in the primary season, that his support was nontransferable, even as Mr. Dean urged his followers to support the eventual Democratic nominee in his concession speech.

“Although my candidacy for president may end today, the most important goal remains defeating George W. Bush in November, and I hope that you will join me in doing everything we can to support the Democrats this fall,” Mr. Dean said yesterday in Burlington, Vt.

But if the nominee turns out to be Mr. Kerry, it is possible not even Mr. Dean will be able to persuade his supporters to fall in line. In addition to giving a luke-warm reaction to joining the Edwards campaign, several online backers wrote of their distaste for the tactics of the Democratic National Committee and its favorite candidate, Mr. Kerry.

“As disgusted with the Democratic Party as I am, I have decided to stay on as Precinct Chair and try to go on to the convention. Remember, Deanocrats, it’s all about the delegates,” wrote Indy for Dean.

He speculated that Mr. Dean could become a major influence at the Democratic National Convention and that Mr. Kerry may not be the nominee after all.

And it’s not just the online postings. Voters attending Dean rallies and town halls in Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have said the same thing.

Marshall Stern, a Chicago resident who was at Mr. Dean’s rally Saturday in Racine, Wis., said he will vote for Mr. Bush if Mr. Kerry is the nominee. He said a victory for Mr. Kerry would only prolong the problems in the Democratic Party.

“If you vote for Kerry, you are voting for the man who never stood up to Bush,” Mr. Stern said.

Exit polls have also shown Mr. Dean’s supporters are fairly unhappy about the prospect of Mr. Kerry as the nominee. Only about 35 percent of Mr. Dean’s Wisconsin supporters said they would be “satisfied” with Mr. Kerry.

“I stood alone in my living room applauding … And I’m glad [Mr. Dean] did not explicitly endorse Kerry or Edwards. In fact, he may have misspoke, but it seemed to me he was not encouraging us to vote for others — rather to send his progressive delegates to the convention in Boston,” wrote Web logger TrueblueMajority.

There are plenty of Dean supporters who are saying they will take a look at the remaining top candidates. But judging by the discussion on a Web site yesterday, Mr. Edwards is the more favored of the pair.

“We have an alternative. We have John Edwards. he’s not as much of an outsider as Dean, but he’s only served one term so far — he still knows what it’s like outside the Beltway,” wrote Web site visitor Moryath.

But it’s unclear how far Mr. Dean’s reach really extends. His campaign had touted its national scope and organization, but has only won about 10 percent of the total votes cast in the 17 primaries and caucuses to date.

However, Mr. Dean raised more money than any of the other candidates thus far with $42 million since he entered the race for the White House as of his last campaign filing Dec. 31. And the number of elected officials and supporters on his campaign Web site reached more than 537,000.

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