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Dean seeks to fend off surging rivals

As published by MSNBC.com:

Dean seeks to fend off surging rivals
Polls show tight three-way race in Iowa; Clark cutting lead in N.H.MSNBC staff and news service reports
Updated: 12:17 p.m. ET Jan. 14, 2004

WASHINGTON - With only days remaining until the presidential primary season begins in earnest, Democratic front-runner Howard Dean was aggressively trying to fend off surging rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire on Wednesday after capturing the non-binding Washington, D.C., primary vote.

With tracking polls showing the race tightening in both states, Dean and his rivals were working hard to keep their campaigns afloat after Monday’s caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27.

In Iowa, where the latest MSNBC/Zogby tracking poll shows a tight race among Dean with 24 percent and Rep. Richard Gephardt and Sen. John Kerry, each with 21 percent, campaigns are focusing considerable energy on recruiting political novices to expand the universe of caucus-goers.

Gephardt responded in kind to Dean's new aggressive stance, using 1 1/2 pages of a five-page speech Wednesday in Nevada, Iowa, to criticize the former Vermont governor on a variety of issues, including NAFTA, foreign policy and Medicare.

Charging that Dean had flip-flopped on those issues and others, he said, "I guess you can call yourself a straight talker as long as you tell people you're not talking straight with them."

About 60,000 Iowans attended the neighborhood meetings in 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore defeated former Sen. Bill Bradley. It was the first contested Democratic caucus since 1988, which had no reliable turnout figures.

Intense get-out-the-vote campaigns
Party leaders believe 90,000 to 150,000 will cast votes Monday night, a tribute to intense get-out-the-vote operations of the four top campaigns, all separated in polls by a few percentage points.

Dean’s campaign has 2,000 Iowans lobbying neighbors and friends on the candidate’s behalf. Gephardt’s team has 600 out-of-state union activists knocking on doors of labor workers.

Dean’s organizers have been promoting his front-running status and you-have-the-power message to create a buzz of inevitability among caucus newcomers. They have fared best with voters angry at President Bush for waging war against Iraq.

Gephardt’s organizers have raised fears about lost jobs and health insurance to get active and retired union members interested in the race. They have fared best with voters angry at Bush for what they describe as a reversal of Clinton-era economic gains.

Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, both of whom have gained ground in recent tracking polls, also have invested considerable resources in the state.

Private polls show Clark gains in N.H.
In New Hampshire, meanwhile, private campaign polls show Wesley Clark making inroads into Dean’s once commanding lead, the retired general apparently benefiting from his decision to bypass Iowa and concentrate his resources in the Granite State.

The Associated Press, quoting unidentified officials familiar with private polling conducted by two campaigns in the state, said that the latest readouts show that Dean’s lead has shrunk to single digits from a first-of-the-year high of about 25 percentage points.

The latest public poll in the state, released Tuesday by the American Research Group, Inc., showed Dean with 34 percent support and Clark with 20 percent in the three-day period that ended Monday.

Dean received a symbolic boost from Tuesday primary in Washington, D.C., garnering 43 percent of the votes, followed by the Rev. Al Sharpton with 34 percent, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun with 12 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, with 8 percent. The other five major Democratic candidates for the party’s presidential nomination were not on the ballot. No delegates were selected; that comes later in caucuses on Feb. 12.

Determined not to let the promise of momentum-building early victories slip away, Dean has in recent days abandoned attempts to stay above the fray on the campaign trail and returned to the fiery attacks on his rivals, the war and the Washington establishment that initially propelled him to the top of the Democratic pack.

Dean ad focuses on rivals support for war
Dean was airing a television ad in Iowa condemning his Washington-based rivals for their support for the Iraq war. Emphasizing his outsider status in the final days of a tight race in Iowa, Dean attacked Gephardt, Kerry and Edwards by name for supporting a congressional resolution authorizing the war.

Kerry, from Massachusetts, fired back quickly, saying Tuesday that Dean was adopting “old style negative attack politics” ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the first big prize in the Democratic presidential race for the right to challenge President Bush.

“Where did the Washington Democrats stand on the war?” the narrator of the Dean ad asks. “Dick Gephardt wrote the resolution to authorize war. John Kerry and John Edwards both voted for the war. Then Dick Gephardt voted to spend another $87 billion on Iraq.”

“Howard Dean has a different view,” the ad says.

Clark was spared criticism in the ad aired in Iowa, but officials familiar with Dean’s strategy said the retired Army general is about to become a campaign target.

Concerned that Clark is closing the gap while the political world focuses on Iowa, Dean campaign aides in New Hampshire plan to deploy surrogates and other campaign tactics to question Clark’s shifting views on the war, ties to the Republican Party, commitment to abortion rights and special interest connections.

A Dean campaign official said Dean would leave Iowa Sunday, on the eve of the caucuses, to appear in Plains, Ga., with former President Jimmy Carter. Carter was not expected to formally endorse Dean but will offer praise after the two attend church, the official said.

Kerry and Edwards, a North Carolina senator, are in a tight battle for third place in Iowa and both are rising, with Kerry at 21 percent and Edwards at 15 percent in the most recent tracking poll.

Edwards emphasizes positive in N.H. ad
Edwards launched his own New Hampshire ad emphasizing his small-town roots and his pledge to free Washington of special interests, adding he “won’t tell you what’s wrong with every other candidate, but do what’s right for America.”

“The reason we have got so much traction and such an extraordinary response in Iowa is because I’ve focused on a positive, uplifting message,” Edwards told a crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire. “And it’s ironic that that message is working and therefore I’m being attacked.”

Gephardt, who says now that he was given false information about the threat posed by Iraq, criticized the president Tuesday during a speech in New York.

He said the United States should do more to fight the causes of terrorism like poverty and ignorance.

“We’re deciding whether foreign policy is reduced to bluster and recycled Cold War taunts or whether we have a real and sustained commitment to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance,” Gephardt said.

In a speech in Manchester, N.H., Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he was the rightful heir to the political mantle of former President Bill Clinton.

“I am the only lifelong Democrat who will build on Clinton’s legacy and take our country forward,” Lieberman said, citing their shared commitment to free trade, balanced budgets and a middle-class tax cut.

Clark urges investigation of Bush's war decision
Clark on Tuesday called for a congressional investigation to determine why the Bush administration decided to go to war with Iraq, given the disclosures by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that he never saw evidence Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction.

“The American people have a right to know the answer. Why did we go into Iraq? And why didn’t our president do everything he could to prevent the threat of al-Qaida,” Clark said in Manchester.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had a 30-minute meeting with Clark in New York, appealed to the Democratic contenders to tone down their attacks on each other.

“Many of them have ‘Mad Dean’ disease. They cannot see past that. We must make sure that this season does not self-destruct the Democrats,” Jackson told reporters.

Posted by Mark at January 14, 2004 1:06 PM | TrackBack

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