NC is ‘the most important state for the future of the country,’ Howard Dean says while campaigning for Clinton

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean says North Carolina could be the most critical state for this year’s election and beyond, and he’s making four campaign stops for Hillary Clinton here this week.

Dean is a former Democratic National Committee chairman who ran for president in 2004. He visited Clinton campaign offices Tuesday in High Point and Burlington, and he’s scheduled to speak at two early voting rallies Wednesday in the Triangle. He’ll speak at Polk Place at UNC-Chapel Hill at noon and at N.C. State’s Talley Student Center at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s the most important state in the future of the country,” he told The News & Observer during an interview between campaign events Tuesday. North Carolina is a key battleground state this year where polls are tight and Republican Donald Trump is unlikely to win without carrying the state.

Dean also aims to drum up support for other Democratic candidates here, including Senate candidate Deborah Ross and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper. As Clinton’s lead nationally continues to grow, her campaign is focusing attention on down-ballot races. Dean says this year’s election could bring big changes to North Carolina outside the presidential race.

“North Carolina over the last 40 or 50 years has done very well, but the last two or four years have been a problem,” he said. “You don’t get a stronger state with more jobs by attacking institutions of higher education.”

Dean’s unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic nomination has been compared to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign. So what’s Dean’s message to Sanders supporters who are reluctant to support Clinton?

“You have to understand that politics is a long-term effort,” he said. “It’s not just one election. If you want change, you have to keep at it.”

Dean says there’s plenty to like in Clinton’s platform. “The thing that I think is the most important is to deal with the issue of those who have been left behind by globalization,” he said. “We have to make sure that no one gets left behind. We have to make college education available to young people without putting them in debt for the rest of their life. We have to make the tax system fair because those are the top have gotten the additional money that’s been created in the United States in the last 20 years.”

Asked about Republican Donald Trump’s suggestions that he might not accept an election defeat, Dean looks back to the 2000 campaign.

“It’s an outrageous thing to say,” Dean said. “Al Gore set the example for that. Al Gore had an election taken from him by the court. He said, ‘this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to go along with this.’

“I think we all understand there are winners and losers in the election. Hillary has already begun to reach out to those people she knows aren’t going to vote for her. She’s getting ready to govern.”

Dean’s visit is part of a parade of high-profile Democrats coming to North Carolina this week for the Clinton campaign. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was scheduled to speak Tuesday evening at Meredith College in Raleigh, and former President Bill Clinton is taking a two-day bus tour of Eastern North Carolina. Hillary Clinton will be joined by first lady Michelle Obama Thursday for a rally at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

Trump’s campaign is busy here too this week. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence was in Salisbury and Greensboro Monday, and Trump will hold a rally Wednesday in Kinston.