Howard Dean officially endorsed presumed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in a Kogan Plaza rally Thursday afternoon.
Dean’s endorsement on the warm spring day was followed by a speech from the Massachusetts senator, who said he would reduce college tuition costs, create more jobs and push for universal health care if he defeats President Bush in the November election.
“I trust John Kerry, and that’s who I’m voting for, and that’s who I’m working for,” said Dean, standing before a sea of signs reading, “I’m a Dean Democrat voting for John Kerry.”
“We’re sending George Bush back to Crawford, Texas,” he said. Dean, whose campus support had included hundreds of students, received louder cheers then Kerry when the two were introduced.
Dean’s announcement came in spite of a tense rivalry with Kerry during the primary season. Before the primaries began, Dean was widely viewed as the likely Democratic nominee, but failed to win enough state contests to continue his campaign for president.
Both politicians emphasized they would have to work together for Democrats to win the presidency.
“We may have started this campaign by discussing our differences, but we will win it by reminding America that what unites this country is so much more powerful than what has ever divided us in the past,” Kerry said to the hundreds of students at the rally.
Dennis Johnson, associate dean of GW’s School of Political Management, said the joint appearance was a key step for Democrats.
“One of the most important things that a winning primary nominee must do is heal wounds and bring in those candidates whom he defeated,” said Johnson in a telephone interview Wednesday. “This definitely is a plus for Kerry to have Dean at his side.”
Standing in front of a group of supporters wearing “Change Starts Here” shirts and an American flag spanning the height of Lisner Auditorium, Kerry spoke about issues that he said were important to students.
“When you graduate from college, you deserve to have jobs waiting for you in America,” said Kerry, who criticized a recent Bush administration report advocating the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries.
Kerry paid homage to Dean, during his 15-minute speech saying he brought college students into the political process.
“He started a conversation with thousands of Americans who had turned away from politics for too long,” Kerry said.
Kerry also outlined a plan that would have the government pay for four years of in-state college tuition for students who do community service for two years. He added that he wants to implement a yearly college tax credit for students.
“I think what he said on funding for education is important,” sophomore Dana Ropper said after the hour-long rally. “Many people here think it’s a big issue.”
Bush supporters holding signs reading “Saddam, Castro and Jung-Il say Vote Kerry” and “Terrorists for Kerry” gathered on H Street across from Kogan Plaza and said Dean and Kerry did not understand the war on terrorism.
“I think it is important that there is a counter to the extreme liberalism put forth today,” sophomore Jordan Schwartz said.
Suanne Edminston chair of the anti-abortion group Colonials for Life, said she was protesting Kerry’s support for abortion rights.
“When Mr. Kerry says he supports women, we say no,” she said. “Women deserve better than Kerry.”
At the end of the event, Kerry and Dean shook hands and embraced to U2’s “Beautiful Day,” Kerry’s campaign theme song, and shook hands with members of the crowd.
In an interview with The Hatchet, Dean said Kerry is looking to motivate students to vote this year by appealing to young people’s issues.
“I think its clear that John Kerry is better for America and cares about the issues young voters care about,” Dean said. He cited the deficit, tuition costs and the environment as the three most important college student issues.
“Current students will be paying the bill for what George Bush is doing,” Dean said noting the administrations nearly $500 billion budget deficit.
“Your generation is also sensitive to the fact that you have to live … with what George Bush is doing to the environment,” Dean added.
University officials said the speech would likely add to GW’s prestige and that Thursday’s rally might lead to similar events in the future.
“GW is the best venue in the city for this sort of thing,” said Michael Freedman, the University’s vice president for communications. “I am a great believer that one thing leads to another.”
“I hope it will inspire President Bush to come to the campus as Senator Kerry and Governor Dean did,” said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in an interview before the event.
Bush outlined his minority housing policy at a speech at GW in October.
Trachtenberg opened up the event after some boos from students, saying jokingly, “I’m delighted to welcome you back to another normal day at George Washington University.”
University Police and U.S. Secret Service agents secured Kogan Plaza prior to the event and were on hand throughout the rally. Attendees were required to pass through metal detectors.
The rally grew out of the Kerry campaign’s desire to host an event with students and GW’s proximity to a fundraiser Kerry attended Thursday night, said Adam Zwerner, president of Colonials for Kerry.
“On Monday we talked with the campaign people,” Zwerner said. “They had been scouting some locations and decided GW was a good location and they chose it. It came about pretty spontaneously, but that’s the way things go with campaigns.”
Zwerner and Generation Dean founder Ari Mittleman introduced Kerry and Dean to students, and talked about their desire for Dean and Kerry supporters to work together.
“The fact of the matter is that quite a few of them already are in support of Kerry,” Mittleman said about the majority of campus Dean supporters “There’s honestly very little I need to do.”
–Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.