Not surprisingly, the party faithful ate it up with a spoon. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party and a Temple of Music and Art employee both said the 623-seat theater was close to full, with tickets going for $20 a pop.
The Democratic National Committee chairman and former presidential candidate, with sleeves rolled up in characteristic fashion, gave a relatively tight 45-minute speech on Thursday evening, June 29. Dean said voters will choose his party for a new direction come November.
"We have been the party Americans look to when they want change, and two-thirds of Americans want change," he said. Along those lines, he predicted Arizona will turn "blue" following the elections, with a congressional delegation split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
Dean said the Democratic Party is in transition, with a new generation becoming politically active and changing demographics among its voters. He said state and national tickets must reflect the party's diversity.
"We've got to start looking at people as people, and not some category," he said. "That's something young people have taught us, and we've got to learn quickly from them."
Values, that seemingly problematic subject for Democrats, also had a prominent place in Dean's speech. He drew a distinction between his party and Republicans in Washington, D.C., whom he said were drunk with power and tainted by corruption.
"The truth is, you can't trust the leadership in the Republican Party," Dean said, citing what he saw as broken promises regarding a balanced budget; President George Bush's supposed loss of the "moral high ground" on the world stage; and criminal investigations that have touched many in the GOP, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He said Bush's deputy chief of staff and political guru, Karl Rove, still has his security clearance after leaking state secrets; however, Rove was absolved of any criminal liability in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Speaking of values, Dean also hammered home a point he's been making across the country of late--that Dems and evangelicals can find "common ground." Both are concerned American culture is becoming overly materialistic while spiritual values are crumbling, he added.
Most everything Dean said elicited at least a nod of approval from longshot Congressional District 8 candidate Francine Shacter. She was confident in Dean's leadership.
"I think what Howard Dean is doing with the Democratic Party is exactly what needs to be done--and that's to build it up from the ground up," she said.
Shacter had plunked herself down in the middle of a row of reporters before Dean arrived and handed out campaign pens, saying they could soon become collector's items. Her opponents in the Democratic primary--Gabrielle Giffords, Patty Weiss, Jeff Latas and Alex Rodriguez--were in for a rude awakening if they made it to the Capitol, she said.
"They're all acting like they're going to be speaker of the House or majority leader," she said, noting that freshman lawmakers are among the lowliest forms of life in Washington, D.C. "They all act like everyone's going to rush to meet them there--au contraire. The first thing they're going to have to find is the washroom and coffee pot."
Behind Shacter sat Brad Tierno, a transplant from New York who once called himself a Rockefeller Republican. He said the Bush administration has probably done enough to be impeached, should Democrats win back Congress this year.
"Diane (Weinstein, Tierno's domestic partner) and I are tired of Bush," he said. "I'm tired of being lied to. The whole war is a lie. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? I keep looking for them myself."
The war in Iraq was on the mind of Hayward Spangler, who, like Tierno, also styled himself a Republican at one time.
"It's a terrible situation, it really is," Spangler said. "There's no way to get out right now, as far as I can see."
As Spangler talked about Iraq amidst a large crowd at the entrance of the Temple of Music and Art, about two dozen protestors across the street waved American flags and signs, some of which read "Howard Dean--1971--Fights Vietcong on Ski Slopes," "We Support Our Troops" and "Howard Dean--Lying, Cut 'N' Run Traitor."
"We are here to send a message: We support our president; we support our troops," a man said over a bullhorn. "And Howard Dean and his liberal agenda are not welcome in Arizona."
One of the protestors, Walter H. Williams, said he has a nephew who fought in Iraq, and that Democrats like Dean are putting forth bad ideas at a critical time.
"Dean has sold out his country," he said. "And the Democratic Party--all they could run (for president in 2004) was a traitor."
Tom Dunn said he primarily came out to protest because he thinks it's duplicitous that former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson, who's running for the U.S. Senate against Republican Jon Kyl, is portraying himself in ads as an "independent senator" when, as Dunn sees it, he's anything but.
"It's OK to be a liberal Democrat, as long as you tell the truth about what you are," he said.
Still, Dunn obviously had other concerns about Democrats, as evidenced by his "Bin Laden Loves Lefties" sign.
"In my opinion," he said, "the American Democratic left is more concerned with the civil rights of terrorists than stopping terrorists from hurting more Americans."