Leveraging technological advances to boost his low-rent, grassroots presidential bid, former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke via conference call on the evening of Saturday, April 26, with groups of supporters attending fundraisers in 50 cities around the country, including Seattle.

About 30 local attendees, learning of the event over the Internet at an unofficial website for the candidate's Washington State supporters, www.wa4dean.com, gathered at the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center at 6535 Ravenna Avenue N.E. to participate.

After some initial technical difficulties, a relaxed and confident-sounding Dean, who was driving across Iowa between campaign stops, came on the line. Fielding a question from each city in turn, he attacked the current president's policies and said his campaign was about bringing the Democratic Party "back to its roots."

The questions covered a wide range of issues. The Seattle attendees asked about President Bush's executive orders, particularly his decree limiting historians' access to presidential records, including those of his father. "It's fair to say that most of [President Bush's] executive orders are not in the best interest of the U.S. but in the best interests of the Republican Party," Dean asserted.

Other cities asked about provisions of the PATRIOT Act--"absolutely unconstitutional"--and the Iraq war. "We are very soon going to be an occupying as opposed to a liberating force in Iraq," Dean said as he advocated for bringing in NATO and UN troops to help stabilize and rebuild the country.

Prior to Dean's call, held on the third anniversary of his signing of Vermont's unique civil unions law, two same-sex couples who had traveled to Vermont for civil union ceremonies addressed the gathering. They lauded Dean for his "courage" and "foresight" in signing the bill, which gives same-sex couples access to the same legal rights and responsibilities of married couples in Vermont, despite concerted public opposition.

Ray Minchew, who runs the wa4dean website, said he hoped to raise $3,000 for the Dean campaign through the event. Simultaneous March 28 fundraisers in Seattle and Bellevue organized by Minchew raised $4,000, he said.

sandeep@thestranger.com