Front-runner Howard Dean, feeling rivals nipping at his heels a week before the Iowa caucuses, says he is firing back at other leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I’m going after everybody because I’m tired of being the pin cushion here,” Dean said Monday.
The former Vermont governor told several audiences that if they want to change Washington, they should not vote for a Washington politician. He singled out rivals John Kerry, John Edwards and Dick Gephardt by name for supporting the Bush administration’s war with Iraq.
“I want you to remember a week from tonight when you caucus who stood up against that war when no one else would,” Dean said at a Monday night spaghetti dinner in Burlington, Iowa.
Washington and war
He also started running a new TV ad in Iowa about their positions on the war. Before stating “Howard Dean has a different view,” an announcer says in the ad: “Where did the Washington Democrats stand on the war? 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.”
The comments and the ad marked a shift in strategy for Dean, who had been behaving like a front-runner and attempting to shrug off the daily barbs from his rivals. He told reporters last week that he would remain above the fray.
“I think the way to deal with that is not to go back at them because I think that’s what voters don’t like,” Dean said Jan. 6 in Iowa. “I think the best way to deal with it is to rise above them and that’s what I intend to do.”
But with the race tightening — he is in a close competition with Gephardt, a Missouri congressman, for first place in the Jan. 19 caucuses — Dean apparently feels the need to distinguish himself and answer back. He said Monday that the race is “very close.”
He was on the offensive Monday and Edwards was a frequent target. The North Carolina senator was endorsed by The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, over the weekend and observers say that may have pumped new life into his campaign.
Dean pointed out that Edwards voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq war, as well as for Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill. Edwards now says his vote on the education measure was a mistake.
“Who was the first one who stood up against George Bush? Now everybody is ’Oh yes, I was against George Bush,'” Dean said in a mocking tone of voice.
“They didn’t say much about the war now, did they? They didn’t say much against No Child Left Behind either. Who was the one who was willing to take on George Bush when his popularity was at 70 percent?
“Politicians from Washington will tell you all these things. I know one of them says, ’I’ve only been in Washington three years. I’m not a real Washington politician,”’ Dean added. “When you go to Washington, you’re a Washington politician.”
Although Dean named no one that time, the reference to Edwards was clear. However, Edwards, elected in 1998, has spent five years in the Senate.
Edwards, campaigning in Storm Lake, Iowa, responded by saying that if caucus participants want a candidate “who has been in politics for nearly two decades and is good at sniping at other Democrats, they have other choices, that’s not me.” Dean got his start in politics in Vermont in 1983.
Meanwhile, Dean also used former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s charge of pre-emptive war planning by the White House to go after his rivals’ position on the Iraq war.
Dean said Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt and former Gen. Wesley Clark supported the war resolution without scrutinizing information from the White House.
Clark made a similar claim to being vindicated by O’Neill’s remarks. Clark is running as an opponent of the war, but Dean often notes that Clark said two years ago that he would have voted for the resolution and that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.
Despite the harsher tone, Dean also said several times in Monday appearances that although he disagrees with his leading rivals on foreign policy, he will support whoever wins the Democratic nomination to challenge Bush.
“Whatever we get is better than what they’ve got on the other side,” Dean said at the spaghetti dinner.