Even though former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean still appeared to be trailing in polls in the few days remaining before the New Hampshire primary, a pro-Dean backlash appeared to be building in New Hampshire on Saturday, prompted in part by the Dean supporters’ resentment of media coverage of their candidate’s now famous scream in his concession speech on the night of the Iowa caucuses.
An overflow crowd of more than 600 people turned out in New Castle, to hear the one-time front-runner with dozens of people shunted to an overflow room at the hotel ballroom where he spoke.
“I believe we can turn this around,” Dean told reporters. “I know New Hampshire better than anybody else because I’ve spent an enormous amount of time here.”
Overturning the Iowa verdict
To his cheering supporters, Dean said, “New Hampshire has a great tradition of overturning what they do in Iowa and we’re going to take back this race.”
Dean also appeared to question the validity of the outcome in last Monday’s Iowa caucuses in which he finished a surprisingly poor third.
He said he had reports that supporters of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who ran a strong second in Iowa, had been “really beating up on the people who went in, trying to get them to change their minds in caucus.”
He added, “I think the caucus process is going to have to be changed if Iowa wants to continue to be first.”
He complained that some of the tactics used in the caucuses by rival campaigns were not “neighborly and friendly.”
He added, “I don’t mean to impugn the results” of the Iowa caucuses.
In his speech to cheering supporters, Dean also opened a new line of attack on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Iowa winner, attempting to outflank him on the hawkish side by noting that Kerry voted against the first Iraq war in 1991, a war that Dean supported.
Earlier, 150 supporters gathered for a rally at Somersworth High School and door-to-door canvassing in the town of Somersworth, despite the single-digit temperatures.
Dean told his canvassers, “Things are closing, we can win this. What we’re seeing in the last few days is that people who went away from us after we lost Iowa are coming back. There are a lot of people who are going from other candidates to the undecided column. So what you do today makes a big difference. ... Things are moving in the right direction, we are starting to close. There’s an enormous number of undecided people still, and people who are not solid for any candidate, they’re shopping around.”
Making his closing pitch for why he is the party’s best candidate, Dean told his loyalists, “We need someone who is going to stand up for what they believe. I have always made a career of standing up for what I believe, whether it was popular or not. It’s not what’s popular that matters, it’s what’s right that matters.”
The foreign policy issue
“If somebody says to you, ‘I like Dean, but he doesn’t have any foreign policy experience,’ what I generally say is, ‘Well, maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t but he was the only one to be able to figure out that George Bush wasn’t telling the truth about why it is that we went to war and nobody else could figure that out.'”
A Dean supporter, Dana Hilliard, a social studies teacher at Somersworth High School, voiced some of the Dean loyalists’ frustration with the news media’s treatment of Dean.
“The media and the pundits have had a really fun time at Howard’s expense over the past week,” Hilliard told MSNBC.com. “Ultimately the New Hampshire citizens are going to be able to see through the negative press and are going to make a decision; we are very independent voters.”
“The whole (scream) thing has been blown out of proportion and the New Hampshire citizens are going to be able to see through that and see that we have true leader here,” Hilliard said. “We have the only candidate who will be able to go on after the primaries and he receives the nomination and beat George Bush.”