Image: Howard Dean Campaigns In Iowa
Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean prepares to speak at a diner in Glenwood, Iowa.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/8/2003 10:46:45 AM ET 2003-08-08T14:46:45

Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean is now big enough to be featured simultaneously on the covers of both Newsweek and Time and to be attacked by conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh. But as big as the former Vermont governor now is, he is also thinking small. Next January’s Iowa precinct caucuses will be won not only in cities such as Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, but in rural towns such as Milford – population 4,000 – in remote Dickinson County where Dean campaigned Thursday night.

“My state is a lot like yours,” Dean told a crowd at the home of state Rep. Greg Stevens, a high school English teacher who gave Dean his endorsement Thursday. “Two-thirds of our people live in towns of 2,500 or less in our state. We’re a rural state, we’ve got the same kinds of problems you do.”

Asked what rural Iowa should do to spur economic growth, Dean called for investments in wind power and ethanol, incentives for building broadband connections to small towns, and tax breaks for small businesses.

After his short speech, a woman in the audience told Dean his campaign ought to endorse bio-diesel fuel that could be made from soybeans.

Dean quickly assured her, “That’s part of the rap, too” — meaning his standard stump speech. “I mentioned it at the last three stops.”

DOMESTIC CONTENT PLAN

Dean also told the crowd too many American jobs were being relocated to Indonesia and China. He endorsed a domestic content bill much like the one sponsored by conservative Republican House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter that would increase the required percentage of U.S.-made parts in weapons systems and military hardware.

Explaining his endorsement, Stevens said he admired Dean’s record of fiscal prudence when he was governor of Vermont: “Running a government in good times and keeping the money so that in the bad times, as we’re seeing now, you don’t have to cut education and social welfare and have kids not getting the health care they need, as we’re seeing in Iowa.”

Another Dean supporter, Doris Gillette, an elderly widow and a self-described “C-Span junkie,” said she admired Dean’s energetic personality. She said she wanted the next president to address “this wide disparity between the laboring person and these CEOs who are walking off with millions of dollars.” She said, “down here at this factory in Milford I think they start people at $7.50 an hour. If the little wife and the man work, they still aren’t making a decent living.”

Later at gathering of 300 Democrats at the Arnolds Park resort on Lake Okoboji, Dean delivered a longer version of his stump speech with its trademark line that “even the Costa Ricans have a health insurance program that insures all their people and we ought to have it here and we ought to have it now.”

Dean also derided President Bush. “The president talks big about defense. Oh, he’s so tough. ... This president talks tough about defense, but on his watch North Korea is going to become a nuclear power.”

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Dean also made a pitch for campaign contributions and for e-mail addresses. “If you look us up at DeanforAmerica.com and send us your e-mail address, we promise we will not spam you until the last three weeks of every quarter, when we’re trying to raise a lot of money. If you send the stuff that we send you to your e-mail network — there’s probably 300 people here — that’s 30,000 people, if you have a hundred people on your list.”

Dean is slightly ahead of Rep. Dick Gephardt in the latest statewide poll in Iowa and local Democrats here in Dickinson County were impressed that he took the time to come to a small, mostly Republican county that’s a four-hour drive from Des Moines. So far, Dean is the only contender to visit here.

‘THE LEADER BY FAR’

Ann Fitzgibbon, the head of the Democratic Party in Dickinson County said, “With Gov. Dean showing up here in this county and having spent so much time in the state, he is probably the leader by far. We have a few people I know that are (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry supporters, more moderate Democrats, who are really for Kerry, but by and large Dean is the leader in this county for sure and I would say in northwest Iowa as well.”

She added, “He’s very honest about knowing that people aren’t going to agree with everything he says. He’s very up-front about that. On the issues, he’s Democratic, meaning that there were a lot of people in this area who were not for the war. There are a lot of people in this area who are for gays and lesbians having civil rights. He stands for what true Democrats stand for.”

Rob Tully, the former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, who is supporting the candidacy of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, said Dean had a big advantage in being able to lavish time on both urban and rural parts of Iowa. “The other candidates don’t have the ability to be here as much,” Tully said.

As a full-time candidate and virtual Iowa resident who holds no elected position, Dean is repeating the Iowa strategy of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Lamar Alexander in 1996 and 2000. The three men, all ex-governors, had no jobs to get in the way of intensive campaigning. The Iowa strategy worked for Carter, not for Alexander.

LIMBAUGH FIRES CRITICISM

Earlier Thursday came a sign that Dean is now taken seriously by conservatives as a candidate. Dean came under attack from Limbaugh, who on his nationally syndicated radio show said Dean had tried to hide the fact that he’d once supported the idea of raising the age at which someone could start collecting Social Security benefits, from 67 to 70.

Limbaugh also pointed to a Sept. 13, 2001, Associated Press story that reported that on the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dean had said the attacks “require a re-evaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liberties. I think there are going to be debates about what can be said where, what can be printed where, what kind of freedom of movement people have and whether it’s OK for a policeman to ask for your ID just because you’re walking down the street.”

Limbaugh said in his Thursday broadcast, “When a politician raises these issues, he’s not just speaking in the abstract; he is actually questioning the merit and the worthiness of certain fundamentally protected civil liberties. This is the man the Left embraces.”

Asked about Limbaugh’s criticism, Dean said the Bush administration had gone further than he had ever expected in curbing civil liberties through the USA Patriot Act. “They went too far; I had no idea they were going to take away the ability of an American to get a lawyer if they get arrested for something.”

Dean said that in his 2001 remarks, “what I had in mind was allowing my bags to be searched at the airport.”

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