In the wake of Howard Dean's return appearance in Seattle last weekend, liberal Seattle congressman Jim McDermott announced in an interview with The Stranger that he will formally endorse the former Vermont governor's presidential bid. A purist by inclination, McDermott admitted his decision was partly tactical. Though he disagrees with Dean's moderate stances on some issues, the Democrats' overriding need to beat Bush drove his choice, McDermott said.

Dean visited Seattle on Saturday, October 4, addressing 1,000 party stalwarts at the state Democratic Party's Warren G. Magnuson Awards on the University of Washington campus. He then spoke at the fourth annual Seattle dinner and auction of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization, at the downtown Westin Hotel.

At both events, Dean delivered the anti-Bush stump speech that roused 8,000 supporters at a raucous August 24 rally at Westlake Center ["Flying High," Sandeep Kaushik, Aug 28]. At the HRC dinner, Dean reaffirmed his decision to sign Vermont's landmark civil unions bill in 2000.

McDermott met with Dean privately Saturday night and made his decision then. He is the eighth member of Congress to endorse Dean, and the highest current officeholder in the Northwest to have done so. "We're really pleased to have him on board," Dean's Washington State director Betty Means said.

On Monday, October 6, McDermott conceded Dean was a little too moderate for his tastes, citing Dean's 11-year gubernatorial stint, but said that after speaking with all 10 Democratic candidates he felt Dean had the best chance of ousting President Bush while remaining true to core party principles. "They're going to try to paint him as way out in left field, but he's not out where I am," McDermott said.

Though both are physicians, McDermott said of Dean's health-care proposal, which envisions spending $88.3 billion annually to expand coverage through existing government programs, "[It's] not as comprehensive as I would like." McDermott supported the American Health Security Act in 1999, which called for universal coverage through a full overhaul of the existing system.

They also differ on medical marijuana. McDermott cosponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act in 2001; in 2002 Dean killed a Vermont medical marijuana bill. And McDermott said he wasn't thrilled with Dean's states' rights position on gun control.

But McDermott said Dean's forthright opposition to the Iraq war was crucial in winning him over, since it proved Dean was tough enough to "stand up in the face of enormous pressure from the president." McDermott was excoriated for claiming, during a visit to Baghdad before the war, that President Bush was hyping the threat posed by the Iraqi regime.

McDermott also lauded Dean's ability to bring new people into the political process, citing four or five Dean fans at the Magnuson Awards who told him they had never attended a political event before.

"I have one goal: We must get rid of George Bush in 2004," he said. "I will accept someone who's not quite Jesus Christ for a candidate."

sandeep@thestranger.com

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