Howard Dean said Sunday that the hundreds of thousands of people drawn to politics by his campaign may stay home if he doesn’t win the Democratic presidential nomination, dooming the Democratic Party 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.”
Some of 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 Bush.
Dean sought to turn the tables Sunday, 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 presidential nominee.
Dean repeatedly has said he would endorse the eventual Democratic nominee and urge his supporters to do the same. But he said there are limits to the practical impact of his endorsement.
“That’s not transferable. That’s why endorsements are great but they don’t guarantee anything,” Dean said.
While some of Dean’s rivals criticize him for changing positions on issues and warn that he would be a general election disaster, Dean said they are tossing away any chance to build a record that would appeal to voters.
Most of the criticism in the race is directed at Dean, who is in a tight contest with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt for the Jan. 19 precinct caucuses in Iowa, according to polls. Dean also has built himself 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,” 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.”
He added: “If we had strong leadership in the Democratic Party, it would be calling the other candidates and saying somebody has to win here. If (former Democratic National Committee head) Ron Brown were chairman, this wouldn’t be happening.”
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong rejected Dean’s arguments saying nothing unusual is happening.
“All of the Democratic presidential candidates including Governor Dean have been vigorous about drawing distinctions among themselves,” she said. “Democratic primaries over the last 20 years have been just as tough and just as vigorous.