Howard Dean Exceeds Expectations

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 1, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: With his hefty chunk of campaigning cash, Howard Dean (search) is stunning his competitors and has added himself to the group of A-listers.

Joining us now Darrell West a political science professor at Brown University. And today's big question, professor, is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Democrats?

DARRELL WEST, BROWN UNIVERSITY: It's bad for Democrats because Howard Dean is probably the most liberal aspirant in this race… it would be a disaster for the National Democratic Party (search) if he turns out to be the nominee.

GIBSON: So what will the big players in the National Democratic Party do? Let this happen or will there be a “stop Dean” movement quietly bubbling up?

WEST: Well, these types of "stop anybody" movements generally are not very successful just because Howard Dean is the only one of the Democratic candidates really from outside of Washington. So, not only is he appealing to a liberal base, he is also going for the populous base. So, the more Tim Russert (search) who beat him up on Meet the Press a couple of weeks ago and others in the national — either Democratic or media establishment — beat him up, the better off Howard Dean is going to be.

GIBSON: Is support for Howard Dean meant to send Democrats a message? “We don't want this centrist Democratic Party. We don't want Bill Clinton's Democratic Leadership Conference. We don't want Democrats co-opting the Republican issues. We want to go back to left, left and hard left?”

WEST: I think the grassroots is trying to send the National Democratic Party a message, which is that they've been demoralized. They were demoralized by Al Gore's showing in 2000. They were demoralized by Bill Clinton moving the party to the middle. And Dean is really appealing to that discouraged Democratic left that feels like they've been left out of national politics. And those are exactly the people who are sending their dollars to Howard Dean.

GIBSON: What percentage of the electorate does that make up? I mean, if Howard Dean is getting the support, if he is raising money, if there's buzz about him, if he has the momentum, why doesn't he smell and sound like a winner?

WEST: Well, the liberal base does not make up a large enough portion of the vote to win a general election, but unfortunately for Democrats, in a crowded field of nine Democratic candidates, it could make enough for Howard Dean to do really well in the early primaries. Certainly in New Hampshire, Sen. John Kerry has to be very worried about how well Dean is doing in the fund-raising battle. If Dean beats Kerry in New Hampshire, that would be enormously problematic for Sen. Kerry.

GIBSON: Meanwhile, Senator Kerry has a reported $11 million on hand in the bank. Dean will have reportedly raised $7 million by the end of the night. By my numbers, Kerry is still ahead of Dean. Why are we talking about Dean?

WEST: Kerry is much better known so people expected him to do well in this so-called money primary. Howard Dean is not very well known. He gained national attention mainly by his opposition to the Iraq war. The fact that he is doing much better than anybody expected is to his credit. But also the fact that a third of his money is coming from the Internet, which means he is basically raising the money for free. He's not having to spend any money to raise those millions of dollars.

GIBSON: Now would you imagine — and this is a question that sort of answers itself — that the White House and the Republicans are very happy to see Dean getting all this buzz and momentum among Democrats?

WEST: Absolutely. Karl Rove would be salivating at the prospect of Howard Dean being the Democratic nominee. I think of virtually everyone in the field, except perhaps Al Sharpton, that would be the candidate they would most want to run against, because Bush would clearly tar Dean as a tax-and-spend liberal who is out of touch with the national mainstream.

GIBSON: What about Dean's position on the military? He's made these odd statements. He was against the war, of course. He made that strange statement that maybe America has to get used to the idea that it won't be the strongest military power on the planet. And he seems to be very vulnerable to George Bush on this issue of national security and what we do with our military.

WEST: Absolutely. Dean is very vulnerable on national security, just because, as a governor of Vermont, he doesn't really have strong national security credentials. And also Dean is vulnerable on the wishy-washy dimension, because he is now appealing to all these liberal activists across the country. But if you look at Dean's governing records as governor of Vermont, he was a centrist on a lot of issues. He is a fiscal conservative at heart. And so, eventually, if he does start to rise in prominence, either Bush or his Democratic competitors are going to start pointing out those inconsistencies.

GIBSON: Shouldn't the other Democratic candidates be very worried, because the history in recent presidential elections is governors are the ones who come and take the White House, Governor Clinton, Governor Bush, Governor Dean.

WEST: Absolutely. Governors have been the real winners in presidential politics going back more than 20 years now. So that certainly raises a potential problem. And also in a nine-person field, you can get these weird results of someone who probably isn't electable in a general election, being able to get the 30 or 35 percent that you need in order to do well either in Iowa or New Hampshire.

GIBSON: Nonetheless, among Democrats, I get this sense that they're not all that unhappy with this because there is this send-them-a-message notion. “We're going to redefine the party. Maybe we won't win this time, but we're going to redefine the party and tee it up for next time.” Does that make any sense?

WEST: It doesn't make any sense in that it's risky to kind of throw away the presidency for another four years. I think the one thing that Dean does do for the National Democratic Party is generate some enthusiasm, which they really need, because, in general, this field of nine candidates has not aroused hardly any enthusiasm from the grassroots around the country. Dean has been the exception in that regard.

GIBSON: Darrell West, political science professor at Brown University. Professor, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

WEST: Thank you, John.

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