DEAN DUNNE
Toby Talbot  /  AP
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, center, stumps for state Senator Matt Dunne in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006. Dean is trying to help Dunne win the job he once held. The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate appeared at an event to endorse Dunne's bid for lieutenant governor. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
updated 11/2/2006 10:14:37 AM ET 2006-11-02T15:14:37

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee leaped to the defense of the party's 2004 presidential nominee Wednesday against charges that he was insulting American troops serving in Iraq.

Howard Dean, in comments to reporters in his home state, said Sen. John Kerry had committed "a blooper," but the reaction had given Democrats an opportunity to highlight what they describe as the Republicans' weaknesses on the Iraq war.

"Kerry made a blooper. Bloopers happen," Dean said at the state party's campaign headquarters.

Charges and countercharges
"I think we want to focus on the president's intemperate rhetoric in saying to vote for a Democrat is a vote to help the terrorists win," Dean said. "That's clearly untrue and that's exactly the reason why President Bush is a failed president."

The Republican National Committee shot back, accusing Dean and Kerry of disparaging the military. "Howard Dean's defense of John Kerry's shameful comments is sadly indicative of Democrats refusal to defend the integrity of our military," RNC spokesman Aaron McLear said in an e-mail. "Democrats have an opportunity to stand up for our troops but they instead are either justifying Kerry's comments or staying silent while accepting his money. Either way they are showing voters exactly what they think of our brave men and women in uniform."

Kerry got caught up in charges and countercharges with the president for saying earlier in the week when he told California students that if they did not do well on their school work they were likely to "get stuck in Iraq."

The Massachusetts senator has since said he was attempting to deliver a joke about the president but "botched" it.

"Of course I'm sorry about a botched joke. You think I love botched jokes?" Kerry said during an appearance on Don Imus' nationally syndicated radio program. "I mean, you know, it's pretty stupid."

Presidential comparisons
Dean predicted during his own news conference that, if the election were held today, Democrats would win a majority in the House and would come close in the Senate. The only open question in the Senate, he said, was whether Democrat Claire McCaskill would defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent in Missouri.

Democrats also are likely to pick up between four and six governors' offices, Dean said.

The president's unpopularity is a big part of the reason that Democrats are surging in the final week of the campaign, Dean said, comparing Bush to Richard Nixon.

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"I think there's a lot of similarities between Nixon and Agnew and Bush and Cheney," Dean said. "They're both using the IRS for political purposes. They're both spying on people they don't like and not just terrorists, but also American citizens. Neither one of them particularly believes in judicial rights. They've both been dishonest with the American people."

Democrats will not try to even the score if they win control of the Congress, Dean said.

"I think what the American people want for us is to be pulled back together again and given hope again," he said. "You can't do that if you spend all your time trying to impeach the president."

Dean, who vied with Kerry for the presidential nomination in 2004, repeatedly sought to refocus the attention on Bush's remarks about Democrats and he rejected denunciations of Kerry's remarks by Republicans and even some Democrats.

"The voters want change. Change does not mean the voters like terrorists," Dean said. "He's (Bush is) out there using outrageous rhetoric and I think he'll be punished for it."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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