Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean

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Howard Dean
Howard Dean formally declares his candidacy for president, June 23, 2003, in Burlington, Vt.
Credit: Reuters Limited © 2003

'Howard Dean for America' campaign button
Dean 2004 campaign button
Credit: From the collection of Ken Rudin, NPR News

Note: Howard Dean withdrew from the race Feb. 18, 2004.

July 2, 2003 -- NPR's Bob Edwards spoke with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as part of an ongoing Morning Edition series of interviews with each of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Below, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin provides background on the Dean candidacy.

On June 23, 2003, Howard Dean officially became a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The news didn't exactly knock anyone's socks off; after all, Dean has been campaigning for more than a year. But the ho-hum yawns that greeted the announcement gave way to raised eyebrows and front-page coverage a week later. That's when the former Vermont governor released his second-quarter fundraising totals. The figures showed Dean having raised $7.5 million in that period, doubling what he took in during the first quarter. Nearly $4 million of it was raised on the Internet, a staggering amount. While not every one of his fellow Democratic hopefuls has released their numbers, it was clear that Dean had outshone them all. And as is usually the case with the fickleness of conventional wisdom, Dean went nearly overnight from an outside long shot to a "serious contender," if not a legitimate "frontrunner."

Whether or not that has happened, it is clear that no one on the Democratic side has received the buzz that Howard Dean has been afforded since the campaign got underway. He has excited party activists in a way that his more established (and establishment) rivals -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Bob Graham -- have not. His outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq -- which came while many of his rivals in Congress voted to give President Bush the authority to oust Saddam Hussein -- has given him a natural base from which to get cash and backers. While many thought that his appeal might diminish once the war ended, that assumption has been proven wrong, given that a good chunk of his money arrived in the past few days. (Of course, the fact that American soldiers are still getting shot and killed in Iraq may be an indication that the war is not exactly "over.")

In addition to opposition to the war, Dean is a strong critic of what he calls his party's failure to offer a clear alternative to the Bush administration, and cites the Democratic election debacle of 2002 as proof. He also opposes the Bush tax cuts, and is especially critical of his fellow Democrats who voted for them. One problem some in the party have with Dean is that he is hardly reluctant in hiding his contempt for other Democrats whose views or actions he disagrees with; that anger was evident during the candidates' debate in South Carolina in early May.

Another concern often heard is that Dean is too far to the left to defeat President Bush. Some people in both parties envision a repeat of 1972 should Dean win the nomination. That year, anti-war candidate George McGovern took his party by storm, won the nomination in the face of opposition by the Democratic establishment, and then went on to lose 49 states to President Nixon in November. The Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group, has attacked Dean as representing the "McGovern-Mondale wing" of the Democratic Party, "defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home."

Whether or not comparisons to McGovern or Walter Mondale are valid, there still is the small matter of having to win the early primary and caucus states. Currently, Iowa (Jan. 19) seems to be favoring Gephardt, while Kerry holds a lead in New Hampshire (Jan. 27). A Dean win in Iowa, which is not out of the question, would presumably give him a boost in later contests. And there are those who wonder if nominee Dean will be able to reach out to the centrists/moderates who we are often reminded decide elections in November. What is indisputable, however, is that Deanís rise in the polls has coincided with more critical (or at least less lavish) coverage of him by the media.

One example is a slew of stories about how his rhetoric as a presidential candidate does not necessarily match his more-centrist record as governor; check out the piece done June 22 by John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio on All Things Considered about that very subject.

Some of the criticism directed at Dean is deserved. By nearly all accounts, he gave an awful and seemingly ill-prepared performance on NBC's Meet the Press a couple of weeks ago, failing to answer many of Tim Russert's questions to most people's satisfaction. But the Dean campaign said that immediately after the show contributions came in at a faster rate than they had been, with the tough questions posed by Russert fueling an anti-media establishment backlash by Dean supporters.

Dean, a medical doctor by profession, was serving in the anonymous post of Vermont's lieutenant governor when the popular Republican governor, Richard Snelling, died of a heart attack in 1991. Dean's 11-plus years as governor are probably best remembered by the passage of a civil unions law in 2000, which gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. A fiscal conservative, he also pushed through spending cuts and a tough welfare bill. Rather than seek re-election in 2002 to a sixth full term (Vermont governors have two-year terms), he retired to focus on his presidential bid.

Related NPR Stories

more Feb. 18, 2004: Dean suspends his campaign.

more Dec. 15, 2003: Dean says the capture of Saddam Hussein hasn't made the United States any safer in its fight against terrorism.

more Dec. 10, 2003: Al Gore's endorsement of Dean is a hot topic at the Democratic candidates' debate in New Hampshire.

more Dec. 9, 2003: Former Vice President Al Gore endorses Dean, bypassing his own former running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

more Nov. 18, 2003: NPR's Mara Liasson reports on the battle for New Hamphsire between Howard Dean and John Kerry.

more Nov. 17, 2003: NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Dean as part of a series of All Things Considered interviews with the Democratic presidential candidates.

more Nov. 13, 2003: Dean accepts endorsements from two of the country's biggest unions.

more Nov. 6, 2003: Dean says he's likely to turn down federal matching campaign funds.

more Nov. 5, 2003: Dean asks donors whether he should opt out of campaign financing laws and raise as much money as he can.

more Oct. 1, 2003: Howard Dean is interviewed on The Tavis Smiley Show.

more Oct. 1, 2003: Howard Dean to turn down federal matching funds.

more Sept. 29, 2003: Howard Dean is interviewed on Talk of the Nation.

more Aug. 28, 2003: Poll says Howard Dean leads Sen. John Kerry in New Hamphsire.

more Aug. 19, 2003: All Things Considered presents an excerpt of Howard Dean's stump speech.

more July 29, 2003: On Day to Day, Slate political columnist Will Saletan translates the favorite buzzwords of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

more July 28, 2003: Dean makes a new fundraising push online.

more June 30, 2003: Dean shocks the political community by his use of the Internet to raise money.

more June 22, 2003: Dean is seen as among the most liberal of the contenders for the 2004 Democratic nomination, but many Vermonters say he's not liberal enough. Hear a Vermont Public Radio report.

more March 11, 2003: NPR's Mara Liasson reports on Dean's presidential aspirations as his campaign gains momentum in early caucus states.

more Jan. 28, 2003: Dean is interviewed on The Tavis Smiley Show.

more Aug. 24, 2002: Vermont Public Radio's John Dillon reports on the nascent presidential campaign of Howard Dean.

more More Morning Edition interviews with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates

Web Resources

  • Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign Web site.