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Gephardt hones attacks on Dean

Rep. Richard Gephardt on Thursday unveiled a new ad targeting  the man who has long appeared to be his main rival in the Iowa caucuses – Democratic front-runner Howard Dean.
Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., speaks to a Democratic group in Mason City, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Rep. Richard Gephardt on Thursday unveiled a new ad targeting  the man who has long appeared to be his main rival in the Iowa caucuses – Democratic front-runner Howard Dean – but a new tracking poll showed four candidates knotted atop the field with four days to go.

Dean, who picked up Carol Moseley Braun’s endorsement Thursday as the former ambassador dropped her long-shot bid for the White House, came under harsh attack from Gephardt, the Missouri congressman who is fighting for his political life in Iowa.

“Did you know Howard Dean called Medicare ’one of the worst federal programs ever?”’ the narrator asks in the ad.

“Did you know he supported the Republican plan to cut Medicare by $270 billion dollars?” the narrator asks. “And, did you know Howard Dean supported cutting Social Security retirement benefits to balance the budget?”

It's crowded at the top in Iowa
Dean, Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are in a tight four-way race in Monday’s caucuses, according to a new Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll.

The rolling three-day tracking poll put Kerry at 21.6 percent, with Dean and Gephardt at 20.9 percent and Edwards at 17.1 percent, with 11 percent still undecided.

The advertisement by Gephardt followed several days of attacks and counterattacks among the leaders in what has become a tense stretch drive to the caucuses.

Edwards, appearing at a rally at a downtown Des Moines hotel, said the best sign of his recent surge was that “I’m now being attacked by everybody.”

Edwards has tried to stay out of the fray and present himself as a positive alternative to the negative bickering. He said the attacks were helping to fuel his rise.

“People are sick of this negative politics,” he said. “They are looking for a president they can be proud of.”

Gephardt’s ads resurrect his frequent charge that Dean backed Republican efforts to cut the growth of Medicare in the mid-1990s and cut benefits for Medicare and Social Security.

Dean has denied supporting the Republican position on Medicare and said he would not consider cutting Medicare or Social Security benefits as a way of balancing the budget.

Gephardt sharpening criticism
Gephardt’s charges follow by one day his harshest criticism of Dean to date. He accused him on Wednesday of “manufactured anger and political conviction” and said he could not be trusted.

Dean, at a morning appearance in Fort Dodge, refrained from joining the attacks and concentrated on drumming up turnout for Monday’s caucuses, which could be decided by which organization does the best job of getting its supporters to the polls.

“I ask you please to bring a friend, I ask you to bring five friends, drag somebody with you, I ask you to make phone calls,” Dean said.

His endorsement by Braun, the only black woman ever elected to the Senate, is unlikely to have much of an impact in predominantly white Iowa but could help Dean in later contests in states with large African-American populations like South Carolina.

Braun, who lost her Senate re-election bid in 1998 and spent little time campaigning in Iowa, was known largely for her debate performances, including her defense of Dean on Sunday when civil rights activist Al Sharpton attacked Dean’s racial hiring record as Vermont governor.

She had raised little money and remained mired in low single digits in national polls.