- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean yesterday as the only candidate who can unite the party and beat President Bush next year, and Democrats said the endorsement shows the former Vermont governor is well on his way to sewing up the nomination.

“Howard Dean really is the only candidate who has been able to inspire at the grass-roots level all over the country the kind of passion and enthusiasm for democracy and change and transformation of America that we need in this country,” Mr. Gore told an audience in New York’s Harlem neighborhood yesterday morning.

Even with eight other candidates in the nomination contest, Mr. Gore’s support was a signal to many in the Democratic Party that Mr. Dean has the nomination sewn up.

“I think that anybody who knows squat about Democratic politics knows this — Dean’s the nominee, he’s in. And I think Gore is just one great tremendous shot in the arm,” said David “Mudcat” Saunders, a Democratic strategist.

Ron Faucheux, political analyst and former editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine, said the key is not so much what Mr. Gore brings to the table as much as it is “an indication of where things are going in the Democratic Party.”

“There was always going to be a point in this race where the Democratic Party establishment was going to look at Howard Dean and say what are we going to do about this,” Mr. Faucheux said. “The answer to the question was not so much how do we stop him, it’s how do we get under the tent with him? I think the Gore thing sort of encapsulates that in one dramatic move.”

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill agreed the endorsement is a serious boost.

“There’s no doubt that this is a major prize. And so I’m sure that it has to enhance his campaign, and I think that it probably does lend additional credence to the fact that Governor Dean would be considered by many to be the front-runner today,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Arnie Arnesen, a former Democratic candidate for office in New Hampshire who is now a syndicated radio-show host based in the state, said Mr. Gore’s endorsement won’t move many voters in New Hampshire, where Mr. Dean already leads by 25 points in a recent Franklin Pierce College poll.

But she said it is a message to Washington insiders that Mr. Dean is a solid candidate with good qualifications. She said it also will help with constituencies such as environmentalists with which Mr. Gore had credibility and gives the former governor credibility on national issues.

“He really creates another sense of assurance on some of the foreign-policy things,” she said.

Mr. Gore, appearing with Mr. Dean yesterday afternoon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called on the party to unify behind Mr. Dean, even before the first primary.

“We don’t have the luxury of fighting among ourselves,” Mr. Gore said.

At the final Democratic National Committee-sponsored debate in New Hampshire last night, the other candidates bristled at the endorsement and Mr. Gore’s call for unity.

“To talk about ‘people ought not run’ and that people ought to get out of this race is bossism that belongs in the other party,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We’re not going to have any big name come in now and tell us the field should be limited and we can’t be heard.”

Mr. Gore, who lost to Mr. Bush in 2000, said, “The nation cannot afford to have four more years of a Bush-Cheney administration.”

He said the deciding factor in his decision was Mr. Dean’s opposition to the president’s invasion of Iraq and toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some Democrats said Mr. Gore also was sending a message to others in the Democratic Party — particularly former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — about who controls the party.

“What Al Gore is doing by endorsing Howard Dean is also saying to Bill and Hillary, you know what, it’s not your party either,” Ms. Arnesen said.

Mr. Dean said the Harlem location for yesterday’s event was symbolic of what he wants to do in his campaign.

“In 2002, we lost a lot of races in the Democratic Party because we decided that we were going to go to the swing votes and try to get them, and our base is going to come along later on. I think it’s important in this campaign that we recognize those people who were with us all the time,” he said, pointing to female, black and Hispanic voters and labor unions as the core support he wants to capture.

Mr. Gore’s announcement was a particular blow personally to Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who was Mr. Gore’s running mate in the 2000 campaign.

Mr. Lieberman learned of the announcement from news reports predicting the endorsement on Monday afternoon.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that an official close to Mr. Gore said the former vice president tried repeatedly Monday to contact Mr. Lieberman, but did not hear back.

Speaking to reporters before last night’s debate, Mr. Lieberman said he had spoken with Mr. Gore earlier in the day for 45 minutes. He declined to characterize the conversation except to say that it was “too late.”

“The choice in this campaign has now become clear,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Howard Dean and now Al Gore say they want to take our country back. I want to take America forward.”

Mr. Lieberman signaled his allegiance to the Clintons, pointedly heaping praise on them. Mr. Lieberman also said Monday was the biggest fund-raising day he has had in the fourth quarter of the year.

Brian DeBose in Washington and Charles Hurt in Durham, N.H., contributed to this report.

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