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600 pack Dean town hall meeting

About 600 people crammed into a room with the seating capacity for 400 Monday for a town hall meeting with Howard Dean. The Democratic presidential candidate attracted an enthusiastic crowd, ranging from those worrying about retirement to student...

About 600 people crammed into a room with the seating capacity for 400 Monday for a town hall meeting with Howard Dean.

The Democratic presidential candidate attracted an enthusiastic crowd, ranging from those worrying about retirement to students wearing letterman's jackets.

"I had no idea that this many people in Fargo, N.D., were going to show up, standing room only," Dean told the crowd.

The former governor of Vermont spoke for about an hour, highlighting issues such as balancing the budget, the No Child Left Behind Act and the war in Iraq.

In the final half-hour, Dean answered eight questions, ranging in topic from mad cow disease, genetically modified wheat and abortion.


Dean repeatedly emphasized his support for small farmers and the environment.

He also said he wants to reform health care so everyone has health insurance.

"This is not some left-wing crackpot idea from Vermont," Dean said.

Dean criticized the No Child Left Behind Act, saying people in North Dakota have a better idea how to run schools than Washington bureaucrats.

"The teachers call it 'No Behind Left,'" Dean said.

Instead, Dean would prefer the government to fully fund special education and invest in school construction so school boards have more money.

North Dakota State University student James Foertsch, 20, said he didn't know which candidate to support until hearing Dean's speech.

"He got my vote today, that's for sure," said the Wyndmere, N.D., native.


Foertsch said he and many of his peers have been following the presidential race more than usual because of the war and national security.

Jamestown, N.D., barber Dean Remboldt has been a campaign volunteer for Dean since September.

The 51-year-old supports Dean because of his views on revitalizing rural America.

"He's inspired me like Kennedy," Remboldt said.

Dean's top rival, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., visited Fargo-Moorhead Sunday. Gen. Wesley Clark will speak at the state Democratic-NPL Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Bismarck Saturday.

Meanwhile, in a boost for Dean's campaign, Bill Bradley, who ran for president four years ago as a reformer and champion of universal health care, will endorse him today at a joint appearance in New Hampshire.

That gives the former Vermont governor the backing of the two contestants in the often-bitter 2000 Democratic presidential contest.

The support of Bradley, a former New Jersey senator and pro basketball legend, underscores Dean's transition from insurgent to odds-on favorite in the fight for this year's Democratic nomination. Last month, Dean gained the support of former Vice President Al Gore, who defeated Bradley in the party's 2000 primary.


Dean confirmed Bradley's endorsement at his Fargo stop.

Speaking to the enthusiastic Fargo audience, Dean alluded to "a news story out ... that says Bill Bradley's going to endorse me."

"If there's a candidate in the Democratic Party (who) can bring together the two candidates for president the last time (who) fought like crazy, maybe we're not the weakest candidate," Dean said, a reference to questions some of his rivals have raised about is electability.

"Maybe we're the strongest candidate, and the only one that can unite all the Democrats around the country who've been disappointed with the Democrats in Washington."

Even before Dean's comments, word of Bradley's embrace had widely circulated among political insiders, leaving Dean rivals again dismissing the import of an endorsement each would have gladly accepted.

"As with the Gore endorsement, I really believe that the people in Iowa, the people in New Hampshire, the people in Oklahoma, are going to make this decision," said Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who worked closely with Bradley in Congress on tax reform issues during the 1980s. "Endorsements are great, but people don't listen much to what other people think about candidates, even other political figures."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

The Los Angelese Times contributed to this report

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