The `Deaniacs' believe

The candidate's Md. troops see growing pains where others see disasters

January 30, 2004|By K Kaufmann | K Kaufmann,SUN STAFF

The fabled monthly meetups will still be taking place next Wednesday, in bars and restaurants from Annapolis to Westminster. And grassroots "Deaniacs" from Maryland are still heading to Delaware and South Carolina to get out the vote next Tuesday.

True believers, the shock troops of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's campaign, say they are marching on, bloodied but unbowed. Buoyed by a still unshakable belief in their candidate, they say they remain largely unfazed by the series of disappointments and upheavals of the past weeks.

The "Iowa screech" speech? Media overkill. The fall from front-runner to also-ran? Dismaying but not debilitating. The sudden replacement of campaign manager Joe Trippi, architect of Dean's Internet-bred grassroots organization, with Ron Neel, a consummate Washington insider? Shocking, yes, but merely the normal growing pains of any campaign.

Yesterday, a day after that latest shocker, the tone among Maryland Dean activists was resolutely upbeat.

Take Robin Pollini, a Johns Hopkins graduate student who had just returned from New Hampshire, where she spent the final days before Tuesday's primary volunteering for the former Vermont governor. To hear her tell it, the recent reverses in the Dean campaign have, if anything, re-energized his supporters.

"I had no intention of going to New Hampshire," Pollini said, "until Iowa. There were 200 people from Maryland [volunteering there], and the ground operation was phenomenal."

Like Pollini, Bill Meyer, who hosts the Dean "meetups" in Baltimore, said he sees no loss of enthusiasm or dedication to the campaign at the grassroots. "A lot of Dean people are new to politics," he said. "They're concerned, but they're not used to the rhythm of a primary campaign."

Meyer points to a record attendance of more than 200 at this past month's Baltimore meetup and the possibility (unconfirmed) of an appearance by Mayor Martin O'Malley at next Wednesday's gathering at the Grillewater in Canton as evidence of the campaign's vitality.

Lyn Farrow of Baltimore, a former vice chair of Maryland's Democratic Party, has actually been encouraged by Dean's losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"The fact that it hasn't been a sweep is keeping people interested," she said. "People are talking about the primaries. People who are not politically active are engaged. They have a reason to vote."

However optimistic they may be, the so-called Deaniacs know their candidate needs a solid win in Tuesday's South and Midwest primaries.

"We're worried about [Dean's] ability to get on the board," said Matt George, who is host of the monthly meetup in Westminster. "When his money starts drying up, then I'm worrying."

Meanwhile, what's sustaining them, Dean's supporters say, is their determination to defeat President Bush in November.

Ed Terry, a first-time political volunteer who's holding the meetups in Greenbelt, sees a "groundswell of folks eager to register to vote" to oust the current administration.

This year, he says, "I don't think it's going to come to 500 votes in Florida again."

Sun staffer Jennifer Lehman contributed to this article.

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