CNN's 'American Morning'

March 19, 2004

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn now to politics. Gone, but certainly not forgotten could be Howard Dean's epitaph. A month after dropping out of the race, the former Democratic candidate is launching a different kind of grassroots campaign. It's called Democracy for America. He joins us this morning to talk a little bit about that new political organization. Also, of course, the Bush-Kerry battle.

Good morning. Nice to see you.

HOWARD DEAN (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And good morning. Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. Let's talk a little bit first President Bush and some of the responses that you've had. You said the other day in a conference call with reporters the president was the one who dragged our troops to Iraq, which apparently has been a factor in the deaths of 200 Spaniards over the weekend. This is a while (ph) back. What exactly did you mean by that?

DEAN: Just exactly what I said. The notes and the videotapes from the terrorists made it clear that their attack on Spain was in part retaliation for the Spanish government sending troops to Iraq in support of what we were doing there.

O'BRIEN: So there were some people who sort of did the math on that and said, OK, so you're saying that the deaths of 201 Spaniards is the fault of the U.S.

DEAN: No, I said no such thing, and some enterprising print reporter -- actually, in fairness to the print reporters, they were spoon-fed by the White House, who claimed I said that. Of course, I said nothing of the sort.

You know, politics is a tough game. But I do think the print reporters have got to be a little more careful before they make up stories that aren't so.

O'BRIEN: At the same time...

DEAN: And then they went over and told John Kerry what the White House had said I said...

O'BRIEN: My next question for you.

DEAN: ... which wasn't true, so they had Senator Kerry trapped into responding to something that the White House said, not that I said. This is a ridiculous flap caused by too much time on the hands of print reporters.

O'BRIEN: Yes, in fact, he said something like that's not our position.

DEAN: Sure.

O'BRIEN: And you say that comment was actually a response to...

DEAN: To the White House.

O'BRIEN: ... something that was not happening at all.

DEAN: It was a response to the White House. That's a ridiculous non-story.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the poll numbers. When you see -- compare Senator Kerry and President Bush and you look at the issues of national security, terrorism, Iraq, world affairs, Kerry drags. I mean, he's...

DEAN: But you know what, that's going to change. Here are two guys, not one of whom who have ever served a day overseas in their life in defense of their country, Dick Cheney and George Bush, attacking John Kerry, who has got three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. This is ridiculous. This country would be far safer and better off with John Kerry as president...

O'BRIEN: How do you change the perception, then? Because clearly -- I get that polls change, but how do you change the perception early on, because that's a message that I think has gotten out very clearly, that Senator Kerry has a wonderful, amazing experience in Vietnam, obviously a war hero, everyone concedes that. But the public doesn't give him points then for national security.

DEAN: Oh, I think the public will give him points. Don't forget, the president's an incumbent. He's been there for three years. Where the president is really going to sink, though, is not on defense, it's on jobs and credibility. The president has been saying a lot of things that aren't true. He got us into Iraq by saying a lot of things that weren't true. For example, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al Qaeda.

Saddam Hussein is a terrible person, I'm glad he's gone, but it had nothing to do with terrorism. And he admitted that himself. The key, however, is that the president's people deliberately lied to Congress by preventing civil servants from telling the truth about how much the Medicare prescription bill cost, a bill that funneled millions and billions of our taxpayer dollars to the HMOs and drug companies. Credibility is going to become the biggest issue in this race, not even jobs or health care or the war, it's going to become can you believe this president. And that's an area I think the president is very weak on, because he said so many things that aren't so.

O'BRIEN: You've got a new organization called Democracy for America. What exactly is it, and why did you start it?

DEAN: We want to continue what we were doing in the campaign. One way to get rid of special interests and corporate influence in Washington, which is just killing ordinary Americans trying to make a living is to help politicians raise money in small donations. So we're going to get people to run for office, for school boards, for city council...

O'BRIEN: That small?

DEAN: ... for state legislature.

O'BRIEN: At the very bottom.

DEAN: Start at the bottom, and you help them raise money through the Web, like we did, in small donations. We're going to help Congress. We'd like to send Tom DeLay back to Texas, along with George Bush, because these are far right people. They don't belong in the government of this country. The country is not -- this not a right-wing country. Our problem here is that we have a leadership that is not as good as the hearts of the American people, and that's what we want to change.

O'BRIEN: Howard Dean joining us this morning.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming in to talk to us.

DEAN: Thanks, Soledad. It was my pleasure.

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