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Dean Backers Confused by Course of Their Movement

Times Staff Writer

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has kept a low profile since pulling out of the presidential race last week, said that he will lay out his plans for a new grass-roots organization focused on issues such as universal healthcare and campaign finance reform March 18.

Meanwhile, Dean’s former campaign manager, Joe Trippi, has proceeded with his own organization -- Change ForAmerica.com -- to promote the principles of Dean’s insurgent candidacy.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Feb. 28, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Howard Dean supporters -- An article in Friday’s Section A about the effort to create grass-roots organizations to promote the principles of former presidential candidate Howard Dean incorrectly identified the website founded by Aziz Poonawalla as DeanNation.com. The correct URL is dean2004.blogspot.com.

It remains unclear whether Trippi’s nascent group will eventually merge with the group that the former governor is putting together.

“We’re committed to Gov. Dean and helping him,” Trippi said in an interview. “Whether that turns out to be an official thing, I don’t know.”

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Dean spokesman Jay Carson said that the former governor sees the two efforts as “strong complements to one another.”

Dean made his first public appearance Thursday since dropping out of the race Feb. 18, thanking more than 500 supporters at a buoyant yet bittersweet rally at a hotel near Yale University.

“You have revitalized politics,” an upbeat Dean told people assembled in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel. “A lot of times people give up.... You can’t afford to do that, because we are fortunate enough to live in a country where politics really matters. And politics from now on is going to be ours.”

Dean asked all of his supporters to remain involved in his new organization, and to rally behind the eventual Democratic nominee. He made no reference to the new group being organized by his former campaign manager.

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Trippi left Dean’s campaign in late January after the former governor replaced him. He said that he and Dean remain on good terms, however, and that he spoke extensively with the former governor about his plans for creating a new organization earlier this week.

Trippi said that he began his own effort in order to employ several dozen former Dean aides who managed the website and held other technology positions on the campaign.

“It’s about keeping this team of amazing people together,” said Trippi, who said he plans to pay the group out of his own pocket, for now.

Besides defeating President Bush, the goals of the organization remain vague. The group plans to hold summits with supporters in 10 different cities in the coming weeks to define its direction. But the lack of clarity about the form that Dean’s former campaign will take has caused anxiety among some of his supporters, who fear that splintering will undermine their strength.

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“It is only creating more confusion,” Isabel Bau Madden, a Dean backer and writer who lives in New York City, wrote in an e-mail in response to a reporter’s query.

“For now, ‘Change for America’ looks like a temporary shelter for former Dean operatives and supporters eager for some cohesion and direction ...”

Aziz Poonawalla, a graduate student in Houston who founded DeanNation.com, posted an open letter to Trippi’s organization, asking for its members to provide more clarity about its intentions.

“The organization must open up a bit and show its hand, or the passionate support of the grass roots won’t materialize,” Poonawalla wrote.

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Trippi dismissed any suggestions that ChangeForAmerica.com would undermine the organization that Dean is putting together.

But the questions reflect a broader concern among some Dean supporters that their movement has been drifting since the candidate withdrew from the race, despite vows from him and others to press forward.

Dean’s official Web log has been filled with postings from people who say they’re unsure if they should continue to vote for him, or cast their ballot for someone else.

On Thursday night, he did not reiterate a request he made last week asking supporters to vote for him in upcoming primaries in order to send delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

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Instead, he said those who want to work for Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry or North Carolina Sen. John Edwards should do so.

“Those of you who wish to support another candidate, I encourage that,” he said, emphasizing that everyone should rally around the Democratic nominee. “But remember we must all stay together in the end.”

His supporters, meanwhile, have taken different tacks.

Some have switched their allegiance to Edwards, who they say shares many of Dean’s principles.

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Others have followed Dean’s initial request. On Thursday, a coalition of 70 Dean-related groups from around the country announced that they would work to send as many Dean delegates as possible to the convention.

And California-based Truthandhope.org, which was founded by Eugene Hedlund of Riverside, is running $45,000 worth of radio ads in all 10 states that vote in the next round of contests on Tuesday, urging people to continue to vote for Dean.


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