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Interview With Dean Campaign Manager Roy Neel

Aired February 6, 2004 - 07:18   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back in this country now, presidential politics. There are caucuses in Michigan and Washington State tomorrow on Saturday and one in Maine on Sunday. But there will be a major campaign development today in Michigan.
About three hours from how, former candidate Richard Gephardt will endorse the front runner, John Kerry. Gephardt, who has strong labor support, left the race after finishing fourth in Iowa. Until now, he has said only that he would support the Democratic nominee. Kerry campaigned yesterday in Maine, where he was endorsed by that state's governor and former Senator George Mitchell.

And while Kerry continues to gain strength, it is just about the opposite for one-time front-runner Howard Dean. He's now putting all of his political hopes into one basket, the Wisconsin primary on the 17th of February. Howard Dean's campaign manager is Roy Neel. He's with us live with us this morning in Burlington, Vermont.

Good morning to you. Thanks for your time today.


HEMMER: Late Wednesday night, this was the e-mail, part of it anyway, sent out by Howard Dean. He said, and reading in part: "The entire race has come down to this: We must win Wisconsin. Anything less will put us out of the race."

If you do not win in Wisconsin in 11 days, does Howard Dean drop out?

NEEL: We're going to win Wisconsin. I mean, the response from that appeal from Governor Dean to our supporters all over the country has been phenomenal. We raised more than $700,000 just yesterday after that appeal went out. It's absolutely amazing. To put it into perspective, after sort of winning in Oklahoma, General Clark was boasting that they raised $1 million the next day. We raised that in about two hours.

So, this campaign has gotten new life, and we're going to win in Wisconsin.

HEMMER: Mr. Neel, some of that polling in Wisconsin is not breaking your way. There was a Badger poll that was done. I'll put it on the screen and show our viewers. You trail well in the single digits, behind the front runner, John Kerry, Wesley Clark in front of you, John Edwards also in this polling in front of you. How can you win in Wisconsin when the numbers go this way? NEEL: Well, first of all, that poll is dead wrong. It's flawed. It included Republicans. The actual sample of likely Democratic voters is just a little over 100, which really makes it an irrelevant poll. Our numbers are far better than that. It's a progressive state. It has a long history of independence, and we believe that Governor Dean's message will resonate in Wisconsin. We've got a great organization there. So, we are very optimistic about Wisconsin.

HEMMER: Meanwhile, in Michigan, they'll vote tomorrow in that state. The survey shows the same song, and I'll show you this poll, again, we're getting out of Michigan. John Kerry, that's about a 50- point lead over Howard Dean. Are you conceding Michigan, knowing that Dick Gephardt will endorse John Kerry this morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time?

NEEL: Well, we concede nothing anywhere. We've got good organizations, especially in Washington State, in Maine. Those are caucus states. We expect to do very well there. And we may surprise some people in Michigan as well.

I mean, this race is far from over. Fewer than 10 percent of the delegates have been selected, and you guys in the media want to have a coronation for John Kerry. I mean, he may well in the end be the nominee. We think Howard Dean is going to in the end be the nominee.

This is a campaign that has defied conventional wisdom from the beginning, and we expect it to do so. And a win in Wisconsin is going to turn this race on its head.

HEMMER: Yes. Two months ago, long before you entered the Dean campaign, this was a guy who had a healthy bank account, about $40 million worth. He was the front runner across the board in every poll and every story you saw regarding this race. Can you give us an idea and understanding, since you've come on board, what would explain the Dean drop?

NEEL: Well, the -- look, they were extremely successful in raising a lot of money in an unprecedented kind of campaign by an outsider. It was remarkable. They made -- they took the gamble that we had to win Iowa, so they put everything and the kitchen sink into Iowa and then New Hampshire. And every campaign was out of money by the end of Iowa and then out of New Hampshire, except for John Kerry after winning Iowa. So, that's not a surprise.

You know, I'll tell you this: The surprise in the poll numbers in the drop of Governor Dean is no surprise, because there in Iowa Dick Gephardt ran one of the most negative campaigns I have ever seen. You know, we responded in kind, and it brought both of us down and knocked Gephardt out of the race in a state that he was supposed to win big, and he finishes fourth. It was an extremely negative campaign that brought both campaigns down.

And so, we've been recovering from that, though. We've been on a roll, and our supporters have been standing up for us.

I mean, these fund-raising numbers are absolutely phenomenal, and these are folks all over the country. They're sending in checks for $25, $50. I just got a call from my son last night, who said, "Dad, I sent in $25 because of Governor Dean's e-mail." And that's a true story, and that's happening all over the country.

HEMMER: Roy Neel is the campaign manager for Howard Dean live in Burlington, Vermont, this morning. Thanks for your time for us on AMERICAN MORNING.

NEEL: Thank you.


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