DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont said yesterday that the people drawn to politics by his campaign might stay home if he doesn’t win his party’s presidential nomination, thereby dooming Democrats in the fall campaign against President Bush.
“If I don’t win the nomination, where do you think those million and a half people, half a million on the Internet, where do you think they’re going to go?” he said during a meeting with reporters.
“I don’t know where they’re going to go. They’re certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician,” Mr. Dean said.
Some of Mr. Dean’s eight rivals for the Democratic nomination, as well as other Democratic insiders, have argued that the former Vermont governor is too liberal to run against Mr. Bush.
Mr. Dean sought to turn the tables yesterday, arguing that his blunt-speaking, Washington-outsider approach has drawn back legions of voters who had been turned off by politics. He warned that many of them are likely to stay home on Election Day, rather than vote for another Democrat, if he is not the party’s nominee.
Mr. Dean has said repeatedly that he would endorse the eventual Democratic nominee and urge his supporters to do the same. But he said there are limits to the practical effect of his endorsement.
“That’s not transferable. That’s why endorsements are great, but they don’t guarantee anything,” Mr. Dean said.
While some of Mr. Dean’s rivals criticize him for changing positions on issues and warn that he would be a general election disaster, Mr. Dean said they are tossing away any chance to build a record that would appeal to voters.
Polls show Mr. Dean in a tight contest with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri for the Jan. 19 precinct caucuses in Iowa.
Mr. Dean also has built a comfortable lead in New Hampshire ahead of the Jan. 27 presidential primary, polls show.
“I think eventually the nomination is going to be won by somebody with a positive agenda,” Mr. Dean said. “What’s happening is, in their desperation, those guys have thrown their positive agenda out the window. I can’t imagine it’s going to help them. It might hurt us, but it can’t help them.”