Presidential politics come to Tacoma

There was no screaming this time, unless you count the shouts of support for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, whose campaign swing through Washington state Tuesday included a rally at the Pantages Theater in downtown Tacoma.

“America needs your help, Washington state,” said Dean, the former front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, who was introduced by state Sen. Rosa Franklin (D-Tacoma) and Tacoma City Councilwoman Julie Anderson. “On Saturday at 10 o’clock you can send a message for fundamental institutional change.”

That’s the day Washington holds its caucuses, which are increasingly important for Dean, who has yet to score a victory in any state.

Leading in most nationwide polls prior to lackluster finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Dean has been overtaken by current front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The former Vermont governor’s freefall wasn’t helped by his now infamous Iowa concession speech, which resembled a pro wrestling interview, with Dean angrily listing off states where he was going to continue the fight and concluding with a banshee-like scream.

Dean, who had a rough time at the polls in all seven states that held nominating events during “Super Tuesday,” remained upbeat, if realistic, as he addressed about 1,000 people gathered inside the Pantages Theater.

“We’re going to have a tough night tonight,” Dean told the crowd, referring to early poll returns, vowing to stay in the race. “We’re going to keep going and going and going and going and going.”

Dean said he hoped that he would be the Democratic nominee for president, but if not, he would support whoever that was “because anybody is better than George W. Bush.”

During his speech, Dean ripped into President Bush.

“I want real change in America, and let me tell you what I mean by that,” Dean said, assailing the president on the war in Iraq, lost jobs, tax cuts and affirmative action.

Dean played up his experience as the former of governor of Vermont, touting successes in health care, education and balancing the budget.

Some criticism was also directed at Kerry, although Dean did not mention him by name.

Dean made an oblique reference to Kerry – who has made fighting against corporate special interests a centerpiece of his campaign – having raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years, according to federal records.

Portraying himself as an outside-the-beltway candidate, Dean said this contest presented a choice between “Democrats who behave like Republicans” and a chance to “take back the Democratic Party.”

Dean’s speech played well the his adoring and enthusiastic audience. Many times during his speech he was interrupted by clapping and cheers. Several “We want Dean!” chants broke out throughout the event.

Prior to the doors opening at the Pantages Theater at about 3:30 p.m., a long line of people waiting to get in snaked along 9th Street, with people holding up signs for passing motorists to see.

The atmosphere resembled a party of sorts and featured a mix of young people and older adults. One gentleman was wearing an oversized novelty cowboy hat, while many others were wearing t-shirts and sporting campaign buttons in support of their candidate.

Following his speech, Dean shook hands, signed autographs and posed for photographs.