Dean Ends His Presidential Campaign
Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images file
Among other things, Howard Dean has said Kerry is part of the "corrupt political culture in Washington" and "it appears that his word is no good."
updated 3/5/2004 4:27:12 PM ET 2004-03-05T21:27:12

John Kerry’s been described as a waffler who blathers, a son of privilege who won’t stand up to millionaires, a Washington insider who’s a handmaiden to special interests and an inconsistent candidate whose word is no good.

All of that comes from fellow Democrats who ran against Kerry in the presidential primary race but now are pledged to help elect him president. The also-rans in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination have supplied plenty of rhetorical ammunition that Republicans could refire in the fall campaign, although the strategy is not without risks.

It happens every primary election season, to one degree or another: Rivals for their party’s nomination criticize one another, then drop out, shake hands, plaster a smile on their faces and close ranks behind whoever ultimately gets the prize. All those nasty sound bites are forgotten, unless somebody from the other side decides to dredge them up.

Here is what Wesley Clark had to say about Kerry (and fellow rival John Edwards) on Feb. 5: “The American people don’t want another Washington insider who never plays it straight. They don’t want a follower who makes decisions by licking his finger and sticking it up in the wind.”

This is what Clark had to say about Kerry eight days later, after abandoning his own quest for the presidency: “I believe John Kerry has the right experience, the right values and the right leadership and character to beat George W. Bush.”

Edwards: Mr. Nice Guy of the field
Edwards, known as the nice guy in the campaign, soft-pedaled his criticisms, but nonetheless was happy to cast the four-term Massachusetts senator as “somebody who spent most of their life in politics” and unlikely to bring about needed changes. Stressing his own working-class upbringing, Edwards argued on Feb. 24, “this is something that crowd in Washington just doesn’t get.”

One week later, when he dropped out of the race, Edwards praised Kerry as a man who has “fought for and will continue to fight for the things that all of us believe in. ... The truth of the matter is that John Kerry has what it takes, right here in his heart, to be president of the United States.”

Some of the harshest criticism of Kerry came from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who pledged to support the Democratic nominee when he pulled out of the race. Despite a considerable amount of bad blood between the two candidates, Dean said Wednesday that he’ll be visiting Kerry in Boston next week to help map strategy for beating President Bush.

Here’s a sampling of what Dean had to say about Kerry in earlier days:

  • “President Kerry. Please, spare us.”
  • “He’s going to turn out to be just like George Bush.”
  • “John Kerry is part of the corrupt political culture in Washington.”
  • “It appears that his word is no good.”
  • “I’m just incensed by his hypocrisy.”

Other Democratic also-rans now backing Kerry include Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. That would be the same Gephardt whose mailings said Kerry is “no friend to family farmers” and the same Lieberman who called Kerry a “waffler.”

By historical standards, this year’s Democratic primary was a relatively tame affair, absent some of the harsher rhetoric of campaigns past. And presidential historian Henry Graff said voters are so used to the ritual they won’t take the negative words too seriously. In the words of Democratic consultant Paul Begala, “So what?”

Long list of attacks
Even so, the list of attack lines goes on and on. And you can bet the Republicans are keeping track.

Political analysts caution there are risks to reviving such rhetoric in the fall campaign, particularly this year.

“The problem with the Republicans using it is that the Democrats agreed in every debate that anyone on the stage was better than George Bush,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Any time the Democrats’ critical words are revived, the author of the words can step forward to explain them away and speak in praise of Kerry.

Still, Rich Bond, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the Democrats “can’t erase the record and they said some awful things.”

For the Republicans, he said, “it is certainly worth reviewing and using their words against John Kerry against John Kerry.”

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