MONTPELIER, Vt. – Howard Dean's (search) home-state voters handed him his only victory of the Democratic presidential season Tuesday, two weeks after he withdrew from a race he once appeared destined to dominate.
Vermont Democrats showed little concern that Dean withdrew from the race Feb. 18 after going winless in the first 17 contests, favoring their former governor by a 2-to-1 margin over front-runner John Kerry (search), exit polls showed.
"I think it makes a statement across the nation that he has supporters still out there for him," said Kim Paradee, 34, after voting for Dean in Bristol.
Dean himself was remaining low key about the victory. Aides said he did not plan to do anything more than release a statement. He planned to attend high school sporting events in the evening.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), the only leading candidate who still has an active campaign against Massachusetts Sen. Kerry, chose not to appear on the Vermont ballot.
But there appeared to be some support for him -- or possibly New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose supporters mounted a last-minute bid on her behalf even though she's not a presidential candidate. Exit polls showed perhaps one in 20 people voted for someone other than the five men whose names were on the ballot, apparently writing in their names.
Besides Dean and Kerry, the ballot also included Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who also has withdrawn from the race, and perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Dean's longstanding opposition to the war in Iraq resonated with voters. About one in five questioned in an exit poll chose the war in Iraq as the top issue, and more than two-thirds of those voters supported Dean.
He also appeared to win over angry voters. Nearly two-thirds said they were angry at President Bush and nearly two-thirds of them went for Dean.
Four in 10 voters said the most important quality in a candidate is standing up for what he believes, and of those, four out of five went for Dean.
The exit polls were conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International.
Jeffrey Hughes of Shelburne said the results might have been different if Edwards had been on the ballot. "I voted for Dean. I probably would have gone with Edwards, but he wasn't on the ballot," Hughes said.
Although Dean left the race, he did ask supporters around the country to continue sending delegates committed to him to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.
He's destined to take the biggest share of the Vermont delegates, although only 15 were at stake Tuesday.
The victory was certain to be a melancholy one for Dean, though. At the start of the year, he was the candidate to beat, setting records for raising money, leading in the polls and winning endorsements from the likes of former Vice President Al Gore and three politically active international unions.
It may give some muscle to his efforts to start a grass-roots advocacy organization built around the "Deaniacs" who were the most ardent of Dean's famously devoted supporters. Dean has said he will announce March 18 his plans for the new organization.