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Murmurs from the Urban Heartland - Dean Meetup, Philadelphia
April 5, 2003
By Mike McArdle

Editor's Note: Democratic Underground welcomes articles promoting individual Democratic candidates for political office. Publication of these articles does not imply endorsement of any candidate by the editors of Democratic Underground.

Half a world away people were people killing one another for reasons that to many made no sense. And the man in the White House who initiated the war was once again riding a rally-round effect to high poll numbers, however temporary they may be. But the calendar dictates that another Presidential campaign is about to begin so on Wednesday night I went to a "meetup" of supporters of about the only Democrat who seems to be attracting any attention these days Howard Dean of Vermont.

Four years earlier I had gone to a similar meeting for Bill Bradley. Maybe candidates attract activists who are like them. The Bradleys were cerebral, a bit detached and met in conference rooms at the University of Pennsylvania. The Deans are feistier, more anxious to speak up and gathered in an upscale bar. The Bradley campaign sent a professional organizer to chair the meeting who was visiting a different city each night. At the Dean meetup the hosts were locals although most seem to have been veterans of many campaigns. But they didn't dominate and take control of the meeting the way the Bradley representative had.

The Dean crowd seems like educated, mostly professional people from their 20's to their mid-50's. A couple of them mentioned that they were teachers. They were also overwhelmingly white, disproportionately so for a group of people from a Eastern metropolitan area. One of the first people to speak to the group addressed the lack of minorities and suggested that that situation would need to be remedied and quickly.

As people in the room began to express themselves the first topic was how they came to like Dean? "He's the only candidate without blood on his hands," said one. "He's the only one who's been against the war from the start," added another. Certainly at this point the war in Iraq was dominating the political thoughts of America and the Dean candidacy was benefiting from the anti-war sentiments of a significant number of Democrats.

Others cited Deans support for national health care. A young man with an English accent said that he paid almost $1000 a month for drugs here that were free when he was living in England. The health care issue, so badly handled by a Democratic administration almost a decade ago, seemed to resonate with many in the crowd.

Still other talked about Dean's support for reproductive rights, gay rights and protecting the environment but it was clear that Dr. Dean's appeal rested solidly on the war and health care issues. A man who identified himself as a college professor said that he felt Dean could help redeem the word "liberal" from those that have tried to demonize it recent years. Some others even mentioned the more conservative aspects of the Dean program his states rights approach to the gun issue and his reputation as being fiscally moderate to conservative. Some seemed to feel that these issues would keep him from becoming a new McGovern.

A couple of speakers disparaged the Democratic "establishment," angry words were directed toward Congressional Democrats like Gephardt and Daschle and toward the DNC in general, feeling that they are way out of touch with the party's voters, too comfortable in the current status of the party and unresponsive to the concerns of many of their natural supporters.

One person mentioned that Pennsylvania is a state that traditionally has had little to no influence in the selection of Presidential candidates. The primary is always one of the last ones and the nomination is almost always settled by the time it takes place. So the most important influence that a Dean group from PA could have in the primaries is to raise funds for the candidate. The real battleground, he said, would be in Iowa and New Hampshire and unless our candidate did well there we would wind up with somebody like Joe Lieberman. One must wonder how Mr. Lieberman would react if he knew that the mere mention of his name provoked the loudest, angriest jeer of the evening surpassing even the one for George Bush.

If the Dean supporters have a second choice for the nomination it would seem to be Senator John Kerry. Most expressed a feeling that Kerry let them down on the war issue and thought that Kerry supporters should be migrating to Dean. I had had a strong inclination to back Kerry myself but one morning when I heard him on the Imus program seemingly trying to simultaneously support and oppose the war with Iraq he angered me so badly that I sent money to the Dean campaign. Still you got the feeling that the people in this room could live with Kerry as their standard bearer as much as they might prefer Dean.

Philadelphia is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and the people at the Dean meetup seemed to know full well that most of the Democratic voters in their city had probably never even heard of their candidate. The organizers assigned people to work on fund-raising, outreach to minorities and ways to attract media attention. Still, Dean has moved in a few months from being a real long shot to just being a long shot. He may yet prove to be just the "flavor of the month" and the Dean enthusiasm may end with the war. But then again 12 years ago similar meetings were almost certainly held for a little known Governor of Arkansas.

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