BOWLING GREEN - Wednesday was a nice evening, a little cool for June, maybe, but pleasant enough for people downtown to enjoy a leisurely evening coffee at one of the sidewalk caf tables.
The city streets were noticeably quiet, as this college town slips from its school-year frenzy into a lazy vacation mode.
But not all was quiet this midweek evening. More than eight months before the Ohio presidential primary, people here were meeting to plot how to get their presidential candidate into a position to win the state and, ultimately, the Democratic Party nomination.
The candidate stirring this early enthusiasm is Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor who has thrown fireballs at President Bush and at moderates in his own party.
“This new round of tax cuts is just another reminder that not only are Republicans irresponsible with taxpayer money, they're irresponsible with the truth of what they have done,” said Mr. Dean recently.
He has inspired some with his attacks on Washington Democrats who, he contends, have compromised basic party principles in dealing with the White House.
“What I want to know is why our Democratic Party leaders are supporting unilateral action against Iraq?” he said during a February meeting of the Democratic National Committee. “What I want to know is why our Democratic Party leaders support a patients' bill of rights when they should be pushing for universal health care for all?
“I am Howard Dean, and I am here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
The meeting here began with about 15 people packed into the conference room of a coffee shop and bookstore on Main Street, voicing support for Mr. Dean, dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush, or both. These were common people spanning all age groups: college students, some in their 30s and 40s, and some who looked to be retired.
Soon the group swelled too large for the conference room, spilling out to a large conference table flanked by shelves filled with fiction.
Some said they were angry that Congress had “abdicated” its role in declaring war against Iraq, passing a resolution giving President Bush that power.
“We gave this cowboy the biggest six-gun he's ever had to shoot wherever he wants,” said Sandra Kirkland, an ardent supporter who has traveled to Columbus to cheer on Mr. Dean.
Others voiced concerns about the economy, business, and post-Sept. 11, 2001, legislation expanding governmental powers under the auspices of fighting terrorism.
Al Baldwin, chairman of the Wood County Democratic Party showed up, mostly just to answer questions and offer moral support.
“I only know four or five of these people. That is a very good sign,” he said.
The group divided up chores to boost Mr. Dean's presence at parades, festivals, and other events in northwest Ohio.
Bowling Green is not the only city in which Dean supporters are meeting. The gatherings, called “meetups” by the national Dean campaign, are held the first Wednesday of every month, and are designed to lure “dissatisfied but complacent” voters into his grass-roots organization, according to the Dean Web site.
Since these informal local meetings began several months ago, more than 32,000 people in 400 cities have taken part, the Web site claims. While other Democratic candidates have been making campaign stops around the Midwest, none has put together a similar grass-roots organization. Time will tell whether it will do any good. Because the “meetups” are organized mostly over the Internet at minimal cost, the price is certainly right.
OVERLOOKED? The Democratic Leadership Council's new list of “rising new Democrat stars” is out, and three Ohioans are on it, including Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (a Toledo native), Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, and Eric Fingerhut, the state senator from Shaker Heights now mounting a challenge to U.S. Sen. George Voinovich.
Not on the list are U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, or anyone else from northwest Ohio.
“The congresswoman wouldn't be on the list because she isn't new,” said Steve Katich, her district office director. No word from Mr. Ford's office.
The DLC, remember, is the political group with which former President Clinton is closely associated, forming part of the platform that launched him to the White House a decade ago.