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Subject: California Demos Cheer, Jeer Candidates Over War
Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2003 19:27:00 -0500

San Francisco Chronicle
March 16, 2003

State Demos cheer, jeer presidential hopefuls Varied Iraq stances ignite convention 

Carla Marinucci, John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writers 


Sacramento -- Presidential hopeful Howard Dean electrified the state Democratic convention here Saturday when he leveled a verbal barrage against the Bush policies in support of the war in Iraq---fists raised, roaring, "We want our country back!"

But North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, also a candidate for president, got a different reception entirely from
the 1,800 delegates here when he raised the issue of Iraq. A resounding chorus of boos and chants of "No war!" erupted with his statement: "I believe Saddam Hussein is a serious threat and must be disarmed (with)
military force if necessary." 

The contrasts were at times dramatic---and the talk sometimes divisive---as the looming specter of a war in Iraq overshadowed the gathering of California Democrats this weekend. Although their goal was to rally troops for the political wars of 2004, Democratic presidential hopefuls were forced to address the Iraq
situation even as they criticized Republicans and President Bush on issues of the economy, education and

"The Democratic presidential candidates in town this weekend are telling liberal activists what they want to
hear, but they're not offering a message that resonates with mainstream voters," said Karen Hanretty, a
spokeswoman for the state GOP. "Their message appeals to only two audiences---the most liberal base of the
Democratic Party and the French. And the majority of voters in America don't identify with either one."

The state party convention this weekend, a must-visit for presidential contenders coming barely a year before
the March 2, 2004, Democratic primary, underscored the delicate balancing act that may be required for both
activists and Democratic candidates in the nation's most populous state.

While the liberal grassroots volunteers who dominate such party events participated in an anti-war rally
Saturday at the Capitol and proudly sported "No War" buttons, the more moderate party leaders and
strategists cautioned that Democrats cannot dismiss the national sentiment in support of the president if they
are to win seats in Congress---and win back the White House.

Art Torres, the party chairman, set the tone in his opening remarks. "We're Americans, but it's not unpatriotic to question the decisions of our leaders," he said.

But Democratic strategist Garry South, a former senior adviser to Gov. Gray Davis, cautioned that the loud
anti-war stand of Democrats in California could be bad news for the party nationally in 2004.

"The Democrats in this room are not particularly representative of the larger Democratic electorate," he
told reporters. "It's not helpful to electing a president if Democrats become seen as not concerned enough with the defense of our country. 

"I understand there's a lot of anti-war sentiment among people in this room, " said South, "but there are plenty of grounds on which to criticize this administration."

Katie Merrill, a Democratic activist and adviser in Silicon Valley, acknowledged that the "war is a tough context for the top candidates. . . . They can't sidestep it, and they can't dance around it."

Indeed, the level of anti-war fervor was evident in the reception for Dean, the former Vermont governor and a
physician, who fired up partisans chanting "We want Dean, We want Dean" almost as soon as he took the

From his opening shots, his ammunition was aimed not only at Bush---but also at other Democrats whom he
suggested had waffled on the war.

"What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing, supporting the president's unilateral intervention in Iraq," he said, as delegates got to their feet. "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Although he is only in single digits in some national polls and is an unknown to most voters, delegates jammed Dean's information booth, snapping up souvenir prescription bottles and "The Doctor is In" signs.

"He's the only one who is a straight shooter, and called the Bush administration on the war," said Corey Johnson, one enthusiastic Dean delegate.

But Democrats also gave warm receptions to other presidential hopefuls, beginning with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who charged that Bush had ignored California, treating it like "foreign territory." The Massachusetts senator concentrated largely on issues of energy and environment and skirted his own Senate vote in support of authorizing military intervention in Iraq. Kerry got cheers when he told delegates, "There
is a far simpler way of getting Saddam Hussein to his knees---just send over the Bush economic team."

Kerry, who raised $900,000 in a San Francisco fund-raiser this week, also joked that, "I'm running for president of the United States because I believe we need a regime change at home."

Edwards' fresh face and personable style were also well received by the convention delegates, who cheered a
speech that largely concentrated on economic and domestic issues, accusing Bush of favoring wealthy
supporters and special interests over average Americans. And, spinning a campaign line used to great effect by Ronald Reagan, Edwards drew cheers when he asked Democrats, "Are you better off than you were two
years ago?"

But the North Carolina senator also confronted his own support of the Bush war effort---and drew loud boos
when he attempted to explain his position. In a news conference later, he said he knew raising the mere topic of the war before the grassroots crowd came with risks.

"Some reacted the way they did because they're opposed to a war in Iraq under any circumstances . . . and I
respect that view," he said. "But I think if . . . I'm going to be a candidate for the president of the United States, I need to have the backbone to say directly to the people of California what my position is, and why I believe it."

Chris Lehane, a spokesman for Kerry, suggested that the enthusiastic response to Dean's address says far more about the Democratic activists at the convention than it does about the former Vermont governor's appeal to a national audience.

"In politics, you always have to speak to the crowd in the room, but you also must address the crowd outside
the room," where that adamant anti-war message might not be so popular, Lehane said.

The race for the presidency "is a marathon, not a sprint," Lehane said. "There will be a lot of different issues developed in the months to come."

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Brown addressed more than 400 peace activists in front of the Capitol and warned of the loss of civil liberties.

"I believe the voice of the American people against this war is all that has saved us so far," she said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton also addressed the delegates and made it clear that his opposition to the war is key to
his presidential bid.

"Make no mistake about it," he said. "This war is wrong."

E-mail the reporters at  and .

2003 San Francisco Chronicle  ##



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