Thousands turn out for Howard Dean rally

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean told supporters at a Seattle rally last night that it did no good to "have a little fun at the president's expense" if he couldn't talk about what he would do instead.

But he promised the largely anti-Bush crowd — the biggest gathering of Dean supporters to date — that he would do a little of both last night.

Dean, an outspoken critic of President Bush who some Democratic leaders believe is too liberal to win the presidency, was about 45 minutes late to his rally, the fifth stop in his 80-hour, 10-city "Sleepless Summer" campaign swing.

By the time he got to the podium at Westlake Park, the crowd filled the plaza and a full city block between Pike and Pine streets. Angry at the delay, many started booing the local campaign volunteer who was introducing him.

The former Vermont governor told the crowd he would offer health care to every American citizen, as many European countries do. "I'm tired of being a second-class citizen in the industrialized world," he said.

He went on to blast Bush's environmental record, tax cuts, the economy and the war in Iraq. He also criticized some Democratic candidates — U.S. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina and U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri — for supporting the war early on.

"If you make me the president of the United States, I will restore the honor and dignity of the United States, the respect that we deserve around the world," he said.

Dean said he was "awestruck" at the size of the rally, which he put at more than 10,000. A campaign staff member estimated the crowd at 8,000.

Paul Berendt, state Democratic Party chairman, said the crowd was the largest he had ever seen here for a presidential candidate so early in a campaign.

"There's magic around Howard Dean because he's willing to go after Bush without reserve," Berendt said.

Dean came to Seattle after an afternoon speech in Portland. He held a fund-raiser at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle just before the rally.

He will hold a town-hall meeting at 8:15 a.m. today at the West Central Community Center in Spokane before heading to Texas.

The head of the Washington State Republican Party said yesterday that Dean's economic agenda would be a "nightmare for Washington" because Dean has said he would repeal the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts passed under the Bush administration.

"I'm interested to hear how Howard Dean can claim he's some kind of populist man of the people when he wants to raise the people's taxes and take away part of their child tax credits," state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said in a press release.

Dean has raised more money in the past fiscal quarter than any other Democratic candidate, according to The Associated Press.

Recent polls show Dean leading other Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to Reuters. His campaign is unprecedented in the way it has used the Internet to organize supporters and raise money, and last night Dean pointed people to his Web site. Instead of raising money at $2,000-a-plate fund-raisers, as Bush had in Seattle on Friday, he said his average donation is expected to be $53.

"The Howard Dean campaign is the envy of every other campaign in the nation" because of its success mobilizing people through the Internet, said Metropolitan King County Councilman Dwight Pelz, an early Dean supporter who spoke during the rally.

"This is the first time I've actually been excited about someone," said Kate Janis, 29, of Seattle. "I think we need a total overhaul" in government.

Many in the crowd cited the Dean campaign as the first they'd been active in. Dean's sharp stance against the Iraq invasion got a lot of people's attention, said Seattle teacher Amy Harris, 32; she said she hopes now people will learn what he supports.

Staff reporter Beth Kaiman contributed to this report. Emily Heffter: 206-464-2420 or