Still on the campaign trail

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean hit Portland State yesterdayafternoon to speak to students and raise awareness about today’sOregon primaries.

His number one goal right now, he said in an interview, is”getting people energized to believe we can beat Bush.”

Dean dropped out of the presidential race in February, but hassince pledged his support for Democratic candidate John Kerry.

“Our focus has got to be to give a free, one-way ticket back toCrawford, Texas to the president,” Dean said to a supportive crowdof about 200.

His stop at PSU yesterday preceded an appearance at a nighttimerally in Pioneer Courthouse Square for Kerry.

During a midday town hall-style forum, Dean gave a brief speechand took questions from the audience. Not to be left-out, Portlandmayoral candidate Tom Potter and city councilor candidate Nick Fishcame by and got a nod of approval from Dean.

Dean has put a lot of effort in recent months into his latestproject – Democracy for America, formerly Dean for America. The newproject is about empowering people, Dean said, much like hiscampaign for presidency intended.

Democracy for America endorses the “Dean’s dozen,” a list ofcandidates from all over the country running grassroots campaignsthat Dean feels will help bring the government back to the people.During his speech yesterday, he included Potter and Fish in thiscategory.

“There are three problems with this country,” Dean said. “Thefirst is George W. Bush.” The others, he added, are that Democratshave not stood up against the “extreme right-wing policy” inWashington and that they seem to expect someone else to makechanges for them.

“But Democracy is like a garden,” he said. “If you don’t takecare of it, it won’t take care of itself.”

People like Potter, he added, are real people trying to “takeback their country.”

The two things one can do to take back the country, he told thecrowd, are to get involved in someone else’s campaign or to run foroffice.

He is helping Kerry, he said, because “it’s about a choice:George Bush or John Kerry. And I don’t have any reservations aboutvoting for John Kerry.”

Audience questions raised a variety of topics, includingindependent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

“There are two ways to support George Bush,” Dean said.”One is to vote for George Bush and the other is to vote for RalphNader instead of John Kerry.”

He specifically asked listeners not to vote for Nader.

“We cannot afford four more years of this president,” he said.The way to send a message to the right wing, he added, is not tovote for a third party candidate, but to unite and elect someoneother than Bush.

Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich, on the other hand, “hasrun by-and-large a positive campaign,” Dean said, though he wouldnot address Kucinich’s recent campaigning in Oregon.

One audience member asked Dean about his campaign’s downfall.The former governor was demure, saying he’d think about what wentwrong after the November elections. He said that every campaignmakes mistakes and added that those who win make mistakes thatdon’t matter.

He was also asked if the possibility of a Dean vice presidencywas broached in any of his conversations with Kerry. Dean blushedand commented, “I don’t think I’ll end up with the vicepresidential slot. I’m mostly interested in substantial changes [tothe Democratic party].”

He did, however, provide his side of what happened during hisspeech following the Iowa caucus. Dean came under fire after mediacoverage gave the impression he was screaming too loudly with atame crowd. As it turns out, Dean said, the audio televisionstations heard filtered out audience noise, so it only sounded likehe was too loud on TV broadcasts. In actuality, there werethousands of shouting supporters and Dean could barely be heardover them, he said.

Dean also criticized media coverage of the campaign when askedhow he dealt with reporters following his candidacy. Mostly, hesaid, the media takes a negative perspective, pushing conflicts asthe headline and letting positive aspects of the individualcampaigns fall by the wayside, such as Kerry’s plans for increasingtrade.

“You’ve got to have something positive to say to get people tovote for you,” he added. When the media puts more focus on theconflicts, it makes it harder for candidates’ positive messages tobe heard.

The first thing that’s going to happen if Kerry wins, Dean said,is balancing the budget and passing a health insurance bill,guaranteeing coverage for all Americans. Dean is also confidentthat Kerry will solve the situation in Iraq.

Dean would not state with any specificity what his plans for thefuture are, but said, “Whatever I do will be consistent with thegoals of Democracy for America, which is about empowering people.Action is always better than apathy.”