Dean rallies Minnesota supporters, but Wisconsin remains his priority

Josh Verges

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean relaxed his “Wisconsin or bust” strategy in time for a Thursday night stop in Minneapolis.

As his Vermont campaign headquarters played “On Wisconsin” to on-hold callers, Dean spoke in front of about 250 supporters at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Laura Nevitt, the Minnesota for Dean director, said the former Vermont governor is still concentrating on getting his first state primary win.

“He just hadn’t been (in Minnesota) for a while,” she said. “The goal is Wisconsin right now.”

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Mike Erlandson said Dean is well organized in Minnesota.

“He’ll have a good turnout in the state, assuming he’s still in the race,” he said.

Erlandson said he has not picked a favorite yet among Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Dean and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

“I like every one of them,” he said.

Dean’s energy and grass-roots campaign approach has worked well in the state, Erlandson said.

Kate Newberry-Gillin, fund-raising coordinator for the University’s Students for Dean, said she is surprised by the downward spiral Dean has been riding since Iowa.

“He seemed to be doing so well across the board, but he hasn’t won any states yet,” she said.

Dean remains a distant second in total delegates to Kerry.

Newberry-Gillin said Students for Dean plans to hold tables at Coffman Union, hand out hot chocolate on the Washington Avenue Bridge and raise funds with a local band.

The losses to front-runner Kerry have been disheartening, she said, “but it doesn’t make us any less enthusiastic.”

Dee Richards, a Fairview Health Services nurse, said she has been impressed with the amount of money Dean volunteers have raised in the past week – more than $1.4 million, Nevitt said.

“It’s stunning to me the thousands of people who have contributed,” Richards said. “His campaign is mostly funded by (regular) people.”

Richards, a former Dakota County commissioner, said she joined 100 Minnesotans on a bus trip to Iowa for that state’s caucuses, and has sent letters and made phone calls in support of the Dean campaign.

“When you talk about grass roots, the Dean supporters have really been the best,” Richards said. “He ignites passion in people.”

Dean will return to Wisconsin today to continue campaigning for that state’s Tuesday primary election. Minnesota will hold its party caucuses March 2.

Richards said Dean’s tenacity -especially after many have anointed Kerry the nominee – has impressed her.

“He said, ‘I want my country back,’ ” Richards said. “I’m like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.’ “