Howard Dean warns Democrats Sarah Palin could beat Obama in 2012

by Alexander Bolton

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Former DNC chair cautions that the Sarah Palin could derail the president's reelection campaign.

Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who helped Democrats capture the White House in 2008, warns that Sarah Palin could defeat President Obama in 2012.

Dean says his fellow Democrats should beware of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that Obama would crush Palin in a general-election contest next year.

“I think she could win,” Dean told The Hill in an interview Friday. “She wouldn’t be my first choice if I were a Republican but I think she could win.”

Dean warns the sluggish economy could have more of a political impact than many Washington strategists and pundits assume.

“Any time you have a contest — particularly when unemployment is as high as it is — nobody gets a walkover,” Dean said. “Whoever the Republicans nominate, including people like Sarah Palin, whom the inside-the-Beltway crowd dismisses — my view is if you get the nomination of a major party, you can win the presidency, I don’t care what people write about you inside the Beltway,” Dean said.

Dean spoke to The Hill the same day the Labor Department revealed the national economy added only 54,000 jobs in May and the national unemployment rate had risen to 9.1 percent.

Last month the private sector created 83,000 jobs, about a third the average for the previous three months.  

Dean said he doesn’t think Palin will win the GOP nomination or would have the advantage over Obama in 2012. But he warned it is dangerous for Democrats to dismiss her.

Palin said Friday that she was still weeks away from making a decision about a presidential campaign.

“Anybody who gets the nomination could win the presidency,” he said. “Do I think she’s going to get the nomination? No. But that process is so difficult and really tests candidates in ways that no other process can.

Dean knows the rigors of presidential primaries first hand. In 2004, his unconventional campaign briefly put him in contention for the Democratic nod before the eventual winner, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), pulled away.

“Anybody who survives the process can win the presidency,” he added.

Dean said Republicans made the mistake of underestimating Bill Clinton in the rest of the Democratic field in 1991 when former President George H.W. Bush seemed to have a strong advantage but the economy was still mired in recession.

“I can remember Bill Clinton, I think, was one of the seven dwarfs,” Cain said. “This goes on every four years and I think it’s best not to pay attention to that kind of talk.”

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Bruce Cain, a political science and public policy professor and director of the University of California Washington Center, subscribes to the prevailing view that Palin would be a weak opponent against Obama.

“I stand with conventional wisdom that she’s way too flawed,” Cain. “Polls show that many women and independent voters aren’t happy with her.”

Cain believes the national economy must sink back into recession and unemployment swell to double digits before Palin becomes dangerous to Obama.

“If unemployment soars back up to double digits, voters will tune out any personal differences and be desperate for an alternative,” Cain said.

Dean thinks former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R), who recently finished serving as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China, would be the president’s most dangerous general-election opponent in 2012, a view shared by many Democrats.

“He is an independent. He is a moderate on some social...

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