Howard Dean Turns to Jesus on the Trail

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 26, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


HOWARD DEAN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am tired of coming to the South and fighting elections and guns, God and gays.


DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: Well, times have changed. Howard Dean (search) is celebrating the birth of Jesus by bringing religion back into his campaign.

Dean, who in the past has stayed away from talking about God, says he's going to be begin making references to Jesus and God in his speeches. Martha Zoeller (search) is the host of a daily radio show. And that's today's big question. Does Howard Dean need Jesus to beat President Bush, Martha?

MARTHA ZOELLER, RADIO HOST: Well, I think for people who are Christians, we all need Jesus to help us every day, but the problem I have with what Howard Dean said is that he's making this announcement that he's going to start talking about Jesus. I think that that's seriously a problem because you shouldn't have to announce it. It should be just a part of what you talk at. The problem with religion and the Democratic Party did not start with Howard Dean.

ASMAN: Well, who specifically, what group out there among the Democratic constituents in particular is he trying to appeal to with this campaign, new campaign?

ZOELLER: Well, certainly, as he moves south, it looks like it could be a toss-up in Iowa, who knows what is going to happen in Arizona. New Hampshire is the big [deal]. Then they move down to South Carolina. And church attendance is the highest in the south. People want to hear you talk about your faith in the south. But it shouldn't be one of these things where I'm not going to talk about it today. And then tomorrow, OK, I'm going to talk about my faith now.

ASMAN: But also I'm thinking blacks and Hispanics. Hispanics, of course, are primarily Roman Catholic. They go to church most Sundays. blacks have a long history of involvement with the church in their political movement as well. You think of Jesse Jackson (search), Al Sharpton (search), etc. Is he trying to pull away from the Sharpton vote?

ZOELLER: Well, I think certainly you're going to see him more in black churches. And I do think it's interesting that Democrats are very comfortable talking about politics in the pulpit of a black church, but they don't want to talk about religion anywhere else. But as far as Hispanics go, the real challenge there is there aren't as many registered voters, although it is a growing sort of influence.

ASMAN: Now, he is — we talked about this earlier today. He's going against a president who's made no bones about the fact that he turned his life around because of a religious conversion. He said he probably still would have been using alcohol and smoking cigarettes if it wasn't for his faith. He's been open about it. He hasn't really used it in politics that much. But he's sort of gotten an established record, if you will, speaking out about Christianity. Does that make it tougher for Howard Dean?

ZOELLER: It makes it tougher. And one thing that Howard Dean said that bothered me. He said well, “We think that Jesus Christ is an important person, but we don't do that Bible stuff.” And I think for, especially evangelical Christians who are in numbers Democrats in the South, about 30 percent, that's not going to ring true with them. And if you use religion and it doesn't ring true, then it's not going to help you. It is only going to hurt you.

ASMAN: Now, is there any sign that Dean may be panicking a little, that this is kind of a panicky move?

ZOELLER: I think what's interesting is it could be partially panicky. But I think what's happening also is he tried to moderate his tone last week and he started getting hammered a little more. So he's been a little more feisty towards the end of this week. And I think going into it, he's trying to decide, “Am I going to be candidate Howard Dean or am I going to be general election Howard Dean?”

ASMAN: And there's also no question that some of his opponents, in particular, Wesley Clark (search) has picked up some steam. He's picked up money. George Soros (search), who gave a lot money to Howard Dean is apparently — according to Bob Novak anyway — rethinking that, whether maybe he wants to kind of hedge his bet and put some of his millions behind Wes Clark as well.

ZOELLER: Well, among Democrats in the South, I think that Wesley Clark will play very well, because as you know, the military is a much stronger force in the South, the number of bases, the number of people that are there. And I think that Wesley Clark will do better than people think in the South. And I'm sure Howard Dean feels that. He wants to go into the convention the undisputed nominee. And I don't think that that's guaranteed yet.

ASMAN: And, finally, one of those “God forbid” questions. God forbid there's another attack on the United States by terrorists. If that happens, how, if at all, does it play into this political race?

ZOELLER: I think depending on what the attack is, it may play into it. It's going to make the president vulnerable. The president is still vulnerable. Our safety is a key issue. But it just depends on how it's handled. Now, when we have an attack like this, what did people do the last time? Most of them went to church.

ASMAN: They rallied around the president.

ZOELLER: And they rallied around the president and they went to church, even people that had never been. So I think that could play in his favor, although I hate to talk about that in terms of politics.

ASMAN: I know. As I said, God forbid.

ZOELLER: God forbid.

ASMAN: Martha, as always, good to see you.

ZOELLER: Good to see you, too, Happy New Year.

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