updated 1/6/2004 2:03:15 PM ET 2004-01-06T19:03:15

Bill Bradley endorsed Howard Dean on Tuesday, giving the former Vermont governor the backing of both of the leading candidates for the last Democratic presidential nomination.

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Bradley, who represented New Jersey in the Senate for 18 years, said voters in New Hampshire and Iowa had asked him whom he supported among the nine Democratic candidates.

“My answer is, Howard Dean,” Bradley said. “The Dean campaign is one of the best things to happen to American democracy in decades.”

'Revitalizing politics'
Bradley said more and more Americans are awakening to the fact that they need not have four more years of the Bush administration, and he touted Dean as the alternative.

“His campaign offers America new hope. His supporters are breathing fresh air into the lungs of our democracy. They’re revitalizing politics, showing a way to escape the grip of big money and to confront the shame of forgetting those in need,” Bradley said.

“When Governor Dean says that his campaign is more about his supporters than about him, he shows admirable modesty, but he sheds light also on why his campaign offers the best chance to beat George Bush,” the former senator said. “That is, he has tapped into the same wonderful idealism that I saw in the eyes of Americans in 2000, and he has nourished it into a powerful force.”

Al Gore, who beat Bradley for the nomination four years ago, endorsed Dean last month. Their support add to the momentum of a campaign that has skyrocketed Dean to front-runner for the nomination.

Dean rescheduled a pancake breakfast in Muscatine, Iowa, Tuesday morning to appear with Bradley in Manchester, N.H. The two were then scheduled to fly to Iowa for a rally in Des Moines.

The Bradley endorsement came amid increasingly sharp attacks from rivals of the former Vermont governor, who has gained front-runner status with money, endorsements and support in state and national polls.

Bradley, 60, served three terms as senator, from 1979 to 1996. He was a Rhodes Scholar and an All-American basketball player at Princeton and later a star with the New York Knicks.

Both Dean and Bradley started their presidential campaigns as underdogs running against better-known rivals. Both stressed expansion of health care and racial healing.

In the 2000 Democratic primaries, Bradley took a big loss to the sitting vice president in the Iowa caucuses, getting only 35 percent of the vote to Gore’s 63 percent. He fared better in New Hampshire one week later, earning 46 percent of the vote, considerably closer to Gore’s 50 percent.

Bradley was a favorite of higher-educated, higher-income Democrats, according to party polls, a constituency that has leaned toward Dean in this year’s contest.

Rivals react
Dean’s rivals downplayed the impact of the endorsement, as they did with Gore’s.

“The people in New Hampshire pick presidents,” Wesley Clark said while campaigning in Nashua, N.H. “They don’t need people to tell them what to do.”

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said he wasn’t surprised by the endorsement from his former Senate colleague. “I think endorsements are dubious. Look, Gore endorsed him and the race isn’t over,” Kerry said.

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