- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

Howard Dean yesterday said he wants his former presidential campaign — renamed Democracy for America — to play a key role in energizing grass-roots Democrats and independents to help elect Sen. John Kerry in November.

“My goal is to get every single one of my supporters to vote for John Kerry,” the former Vermont governor said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

Mr. Dean, who said he talks with Mr. Kerry regularly, plans to campaign for the Massachusetts senator in Alabama and other states.

Democracy for America (DFA) also has plans to help Democrats take back the U.S. House and Senate. Later this week, the organization will endorse 12 candidates — called “the Dean dozen” — and work to get them elected. The candidates, which Mr. Dean said will be “progressive” types, mostly will be non-incumbents and could include some local candidates along with national ones.

DFA will provide grass-roots support and help raise money to get the candidates’ messages out. The organization has raised about $100,000 since it re-tooled its Web site last week.

Late last year, Mr. Dean got his supporters to raise about $56,000 in 24 hours for the re-election campaign of Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, Iowa Democrat. And in March, Mr. Dean’s camp raised $140,000 in just three days to help re-elect Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

Mr. Dean said it’s crucial for his party to keep the grass roots energized and fill every level of government with Democrats.

Robert Erikson, a political science professor at Columbia University, said Mr. Dean’s enthusiastic effort “may be helpful” to the Democratic Party this year because it “should signal” Dean supporters to support Mr. Kerry instead of independent candidate Ralph Nader.

But the long-term effectiveness of Mr. Dean’s effort, Mr. Erikson said, is uncertain at best.

Byron Shafer, Hawkins chairman of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said that while it is possible for a losing presidential contender to invigorate a reform movement that continues beyond his candidacy, most end up doing the opposite.

“The fate of most losing candidates is, if anything, to slightly injure or stigmatize the groups and issues that were attracted to them and fell apart,” he said.

Mr. Dean rejected the notion that his DFA effort is similar to what Ralph Reed did through the Christian Coalition to invigorate the right wing of the Republican Party in the 1990s. He said his effort is different because it is more inclusive, noting that many supporters are independents. He also said his goal is to “bring America back to the center.”

In talking about his plans to visit Alabama, Mr. Dean said that white, working-class Americans in the South are an untapped group for Democrats, and one that could be wooed away from the Republican Party by focusing on the issues of jobs and education.

Mr. Dean’s message, however, has resonated strongest with college-aged voters, as opposed to middle-class working Americans.

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