ORONO, Maine — Speaking to a crowd of mostly college students on Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called Barack Obama a “new generation” candidate not unlike John F. Kennedy.
“This election is the most like 1960 when Kennedy ran against [Richard] Nixon,” Dean, the former Vermont governor, said at a rally at the University of Maine. “Nixon was a candidate of the past, as [John] McCain is, and Kennedy was a candidate of the new generation. We have the opportunity to pass the torch to the next generation in this election.”
Dean, who had another event scheduled later Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington and a third rally today in Portland, also outlined what he called the three biggest difference between the two candidates.
The first, he said, was the economy.
“[Republicans] believe in trickle-down economics, but we’ve tried that and it’s been a complete failure,” Dean said. “Obama wants to provide tax cuts to the middle class, who will have no choice but to spend that money. That’s how you stimulate the economy.”
The other stark differences, he said, were health care policies and the Iraq war.
“Obama has a [health care] plan to cover everyone, and McCain calls that socialism,” Dean said. “But if we already have [subsidized] health care for those over 65, why not for people under 65?”
The difference on the war, he said, “was 98 years in Iraq,” referring to comments McCain made about having a U.S. presence in the Middle East country for a century or more.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, was supposed to appear in Maine on Wednesday to stump for McCain but dropped out amid scheduling conflicts. Maine Republican Party Chairman Mark Ellis, however, responded to Dean’s visit.
“Other than Mr. Obama, himself, no other national Democrat leader better embodies the agenda of massive tax increases and redistribution of wealth than the big-government champion, Howard Dean,” Ellis said. “The contrast couldn’t be more stark, and John McCain has real plans that will offer real help to Mainers, especially in these tough economic times.”
In a one-on-one interview with the Bangor Daily News prior to Wednesday’s event at UMaine, Dean talked a little about his role as leader of the Democratic Party. He was partly responsible for moving forward with a 50-state campaign strategy and said it’s paying off so far.
“It’s extraordinary to be battling over Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, even Georgia,” he said. “The whole philosophy is, if you don’t ask for people’s votes two bad things happen: One, people don’t respect you and two, you don’t get the votes. Barack is someone who wants to be the president of all the people.”
He also talked about the possibility of a so-called filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority for the Democrats and whether Tom Allen could help by over-taking incumbent Susan Collins in the Maine race.
“I’m a huge fan of Tom Allen. I always thought he would be behind until Election Day and then he’d finally squeeze it out,” he said. “I’ve not given up on him at all.”
Even with all the Democratic excitement, though, Dean predicted a close presidential race.
“I’d be surprised if it were a landslide,” he said. “Change elections are always tough.”
Asked if he envisioned a role in a potential Obama administration, Dean dismissed the notion.
“That’s completely up to them, but it’s not under discussion until at least Nov. 5.”