Dean maintains hope for Wis.

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Wisconsin name-dropping was Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean's tool of choice Tuesday night, as the former governor of Vermont spoke to packed pews in the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center, 2133 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Hoping to present himself in the same vein as Wisconsin progressives such as former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob LaFollette and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Dean made sure the audience knew which side of the ideological aisle he stands.

Tuesday's primary will determine if Wisconsin "is going to be a rubber stamp for the rest of the country or stand up in the tradition of Bob LaFollette and Russ Feingold," Dean said.

Dean also made sure to sever any similarities between him and his Democratic counterparts. On issues including the war in Iraq and the No Child Left Behind Act Dean said he was the first to voice his opposition before other Democratic candidates, including John Kerry, spoke out.

Either way, Tuesday's primary will be pivotal for Dean's campaign. Last week Dean announced he would drop out of the race if he places below first on Tuesday, but later said he plans to continue campaigning regardless of the primary results.

Dean stressed the need for a financial safety net to protect not only the poor, but also middle-class Americans.

"The middle class has been forgotten," Dean said. He said President Bush's tax cuts benefited the upper rather than the middle class, and were made at the expense of debilitated public services.

"There was no middle-class tax cut," Dean said. "Any tax increase in the city of Milwaukee was not the mayor's fault or the city council's fault. It was President Bush's fault."

Dean criticized Bush for borrowing funds from the Social Security Trust Fund to plug holes in the budget.

The key to nursing the job market back to health lies in having a balanced budget and creating infrastructure, including roads, bridges and schools, "so you can add more jobs later on," he said.

Dean also said he is tired of people being divided on race, gender, income, sexual orientation and religion. He harped on Bush for "playing the race card" during the University of Michigan affirmative action case by using the racially-charged word 'quota.'

"The President played the race card too, and that … entitles him to a one-way bus ticket back to Crawford, Texas," Dean said.

Keeping special interests out of government, and thinking in long-term rather than short-term plans for health care issues are also changes Dean feels he can bring to government if elected president.

To date, Dean has raised over $43 million during the past two years, according to Mike Spahn, Dean's communication director. Spahn said Wisconsin donors have contributed $351,547.49 as of Dec. 31, 2003.

Dean said his financial situation in regards to campaign funds is "pretty good," he said. "We're in the black."

Spahn said a cash-in-hand dollar amount was currently not available.

Dean supporter Ann Terwilliger of Wawautosa said she has donated approximately $300 to Dean's campaign throughout the past year. She said she supports Dean because he has a message different from the other Democratic candidates, and because her daughter and son-in-law, residents of Vermont, felt "positive about his leadership when he was governor."

Milwaukee resident Jim Otepka said he has contributed $75 to Dean's campaign, the first time he has ever contributed to a campaign.

"I think it's pretty cool that (Dean) raises all his money from people like us," Otepka said. "My main thing is I want to see Bush out of office, and I just think he is the best candidate (to defeat Bush)."

Milwaukee mayoral candidate Sandy Folaron also attended Dean's speech. Dean's "ability to get people interested in campaigns that were never interested before" is inspiring to her, she said.

Dean said all of the other Democratic candidates pose an equal challenge to winning Wisconsin's primary Tuesday.

Dean, as well as several of the other Democratic candidates, will be in attendance for the presidential debate sponsored by Journal Communications Inc. Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

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