Image: Dean
Democratic hopeful Howard Dean addresses a rally Sunday in Columbia, S.C.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com

In a self-confident display of the power of his fund-raising, Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean launched a television advertising blitz Monday in South Carolina and New Mexico and will soon go on the air in Arizona and Oklahoma. Those four states hold primaries Feb. 3. Dean ads will stay on the air continuously though the Feb. 3 primaries. None of Dean’s rivals can afford to match his TV barrage.

Dean's ability to raise money has given him a big edge in the battle for the nomination.

In every presidential race since 1980, the Democratic contender who raised the most money in the year prior to the primaries ended up winning the nomination. Dean has raised far more than any of the other contenders this year.

Theory about Sept. 11
Dean came under Republican attack Monday — the kind of attack that has only strengthened the zealousness of his fervent supporters.

The Republican National Committee pointed to a statement Dean made in an interview on National Public Radio last week in which he said “the most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far” about the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States is “that (President Bush) was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.”

Dean told NPR’s Diane Rehm this was “nothing more than a theory” and “it can’t be proved,” but he was questioned again about his statements in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

Asked whether he believed the theory that Bush was warned prior to the attacks, Dean answered, “No, I don’t believe that. I can’t imagine the president of the United States doing that. But we don’t know, and it’d be a nice thing to know.”

In a statement issued Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie called Dean’s comments “reckless and irresponsible,” adding that “his willingness to say anything, including things he does not believe, in an appeal for votes is an insult to voters who instinctively know that anyone who’s willing to demean the presidency in order to gain it is not worthy of having it entrusted to him.”

Non-Dean constituency
Rival campaigns are arguing that Dean has peaked in the polls and point to surveys showing that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina, Florida and other states want someone else as the nominee or are unimpressed by Dean.

“There’s a significant constituency that is non-Dean,” said Mark Penn, the pollster for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Unlike Dean, the less amply funded Lieberman campaign has not yet aired TV ads in the Feb. 3 states. But the Lieberman camp is predicting that he will win in Arizona, Oklahoma and Delaware on Feb. 3.

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“I just don’t see much growth in Dean’s poll numbers in most states,” Penn told reporters on a conference call Friday. “In almost every place, Dean has not broken above 20 percent. The only place he has broken out is New Hampshire.”

Alluding to the news media coverage Dean has received, Penn said, Dean “can only go down from the pedestal he’s been placed on.”

The large percentage of uncommitted or undecided voters in most states where polls have been conducted, Penn said, suggests that “there’s a very significant un-Dean vote in the Democratic Party.”

Sealing gubernatrial records
Lieberman is running ads in New Hampshire criticizing Dean for sealing many of the records from his 12 years as governor of Vermont.

Comparing Dean to President Bush, Lieberman asks, “Why did Howard Dean seal his records as governor and invoke executive privilege? We Democrats are better than that.”

Despite the criticism, the Dean juggernaut continues to roll. In a new Franklin Pierce College poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters released Monday, Dean enjoys a 25 percentage-point lead over his nearest rival, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

In July, the Franklin Pierce poll had shown Kerry tied with Dean, but Kerry has slipped since then and now has only 14 percent to Dean’s 39 percent.

The survey shows that 27 percent of likely primary voters in New Hampshire have not yet settled on a candidate. The New Hampshire contest is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Can Clark catch on?
Despite a large New Hampshire TV advertising effort by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, his campaign still seems not to have caught fire with Granite State voters.

Only 5 percent support Clark, putting him in a statistical tie with Lieberman, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt in New Hampshire.

The poll, conducted Dec. 1 through Dec. 4, surveyed 600 likely New Hampshire primary voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Dean is also leading in some polls in Iowa, which holds its caucuses a week before the New Hampshire primary.

In Iowa a new, ostensibly independent group called Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values is running an ad telling viewers, “In Vermont, Dean was endorsed eight times by the National Rifle Association. And Dean got an ‘A’ rating from the NRA because he joined them in opposing commonsense gun safety laws. So if you thought Howard Dean had a progressive record, check the facts and, please, think again.”

Tim Raftis, the group’s president, is a former campaign operative for Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who is neutral in the Democratic presidential fray. Raftis told the Associated Press his organization is not linked to any of the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Last week in another impressive show of fund-raising muscle, the Dean campaign raised $52,000 in 24 hours for Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who has not even endorsed Dean.

The Dean campaign has established itself as an independent power base and funding source for Democratic candidates, which buttresses Dean’s argument that he is the Democratic contender who, if nominated, could pull enough House and Senate candidates to victory so that the Democrats would regain control of both houses of Congress.

Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi told reporters Friday that by opting out of campaign spending limits, the Dean campaign had freed itself to raise enough money to fight back against Bush once Dean wins the nomination.

The Democratic candidates who opted into the campaign spending limits “had given up” on winning the general election, Trippi said.

A candidate who agrees to abide by the $45 million limit during the primary season might have no money left by the time he clinches the nomination and would be unable to pay for TV ads to answer the ones likely to be aired by the Bush campaign.

Trippi argued that Dean’s financial strength is one reason Democrats ought to vote for him in the primaries and caucuses.

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