Delivering his first speech since ending his bid for the presidency, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71 said in New Haven last night that the Democratic Party needed to draw a contrast with the Bush administration to win back the White House.
Returning to the city where he spent his college years, Dean thanked his Connecticut volunteers and asked them to help the eventual Democratic nominee remove what he called the “most extreme, ideological administration I have seen in my lifetime.” Dean, who ended his candidacy last Wednesday, said he hoped to keep the grassroots network that formed the backbone of his campaign active throughout the 2004 campaign.
Flanked by many of his Yale supporters, Dean said in a packed ballroom at the Omni Hotel that he would announce his plans on March 18 to create a new organization dedicated to promoting “progressive” policies in both national and local races.
“You have revitalized politics,” Dean said to a crowd of about 500 supporters. “A lot of people give up when their candidate doesn’t win. You can’t afford to do that.”
The event was Dean’s first in New Haven since he held a rally in front of Beinecke Plaza in August that drew a crowd of nearly 1,000 people. Speaking on the third day of a strike by Yale’s two largest unions, Dean called on the University to accept binding arbitration and promoted his then-ascendent campaign.
In the six months since his last appearance in the Elm City, Dean became the odds-on favorite for the nomination as the nation’s first primaries approached. But with victories by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ’66 in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean’s campaign quickly lost its momentum and failed to win a single primary.
Despite his failure to win the nomination, Dean said last night the excitement his campaign generated sent a message to other Democrats that opposing “the radical agenda of the far right” was a winning strategy if they wanted to deny President George W. Bush a second term. Yet while Dean cautioned other candidates not to become more conservative as the general election approached, he also told his backers not to support independent candidates like Ralph Nader, the former Green Party standard-bearer who announced his intention to run for president earlier this week.
“I urge my supporters not to be tempted by well-meaning — and even well-qualified — third party candidates,” Dean said. “What we are trying to do here is send George W. Bush back to Crawford, Texas, and that is what we are going to do.”
Dean, who has not publicly endorsed another candidate in the race for the nomination, will remain on the ballot in states that have yet to hold their primaries. But Dean has chosen not to actively campaign for any additional delegates, and even some of his staunchest supporters on campus said they would likely vote for either Kerry or North Carolina Sen. John Edwards when Connecticut Democrats go to the polls next Tuesday.
Erica Larsen ’07 — one of several Yale students who stood behind Dean on the podium — said she would continue to work for the Democratic Party even though she was disappointed by Dean’s failure to capture the nomination.
“I want to beat Bush more than anything else in the world,” Larsen said.
Dean’s chief aide Kate O’Connor said the event was originally scheduled as an opportunity for Dean — who was scheduled to be in the area anyway — to privately thank his supporters. But O’Connor said the governor also wanted to speak about the organization he plans to build, which Dean said would focus on issues like universal health care, early childhood education and fiscal responsibility.
“He empowered a lot of people and made them believe that they can make a difference,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully, once you get somebody hooked, they’ll stay that way.”
With Dean’s campaign still several hundred thousands of dollars in debt, Roger Low ’07 stood outside the doors to the ballroom and collected money in a glass bowl to help pay for the event. As Dean supporters placed dollar bills into the bowl, Low, who volunteered for Dean in New Hampshire last month, said he believed the former Vermont governor had changed American politics.
“The thing that made Howard Dean such a great candidate was that he ran a grassroots campaign,” Low said. “Everyone says that. But Dean actually had it.”