- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Former Vice President Al Gore will announce today that he is supporting Howard Dean for the presidency, an endorsement that cements the liberal former Vermont governor’s status as front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Mr. Gore was expected to endorse Mr. Dean in Harlem in New York City and fly with him to Iowa, the state whose Jan. 19 party caucuses will begin the nominating process.

Mr. Gore won the popular vote by a little more than a half-million against Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, but lost a bitter, 36-day electoral battle in Florida that ended with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision against the Tennessee Democrat’s demand for selective recounts.

The surprise endorsement comes after several speeches during the past year in which Mr. Gore attacked Mr. Bush’s foreign and domestic policies, especially the handling of the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

Mr. Dean has made his opposition to the war in Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign, and Mr. Gore has moved steadily closer to that position during the past six months or more.

The move by Mr. Gore represented a further coalescence within the Democrats’ liberal wing toward Mr. Dean, who has a 25-point lead over his nearest rival, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, in the pivotal New Hampshire primary to be held Jan. 24. Mr. Dean also leads in polls in Iowa.

Among the other eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, the endorsement is a particular blow to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was Mr. Gore’s running mate in 2000.

“I have a lot of respect for Al Gore — that is why I kept my promise not to run if he did,” said Mr. Lieberman in a statement. “Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward.”

Mr. Kerry sounded a similar note, saying that “this election will be decided by voters across the country.”

“I respect Al Gore. … I endorsed him early in his hard-fought campaign for the presidency four years ago. But this election is about the future, not about the past,” he said.

For his part, Wesley Clark, the most recent entry into the race, claimed victory in the “Gore staff primary,” with more than 20 former Gore staffers supporting the retired Army general.

“We know from 2000 that in a democracy it is the popular vote that counts,” said Bill Buck, Mr. Clark’s press secretary and Mr. Gore’s former communications director for Florida.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri questioned whether Mr. Gore’s endorsement was consistent with Mr. Dean’s stances on several key issues.

He said in a statement that he and Mr. Gore were working to “pass the Clinton economic plan, pass the assault weapons ban and defend against Republican attacks on Medicare and affirmative action. On each of these issues, Howard Dean was on the wrong side.”

Mr. Dean’s candidacy has been criticized by some rivals for drawing relatively few endorsements from congressional Democrats and other national party figures, but Mr. Gore’s political prestige as the party’s 2000 presidential nominee puts much of that criticism to rest, for now.

Nevertheless, much of the party establishment remains deeply split over Mr. Dean’s candidacy, with some Democratic leaders questioning whether the antiwar candidate would be able to persuade voters in November that he can defend U.S. national security effectively in the war on terrorism.

Former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said late last month that it remains to be seen whether Mr. Dean “can compete with President Bush on the national security front. There is some concern about whether Dean can rise to the occasion on this issue.”

The centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, which has been one of Mr. Dean’s severest critics, has warned that the party would be risking a disastrous defeat by nominating a candidate whom the DLC compared to Democratic nominees George McGovern and Walter Mondale, who lost in landslides in 1972 and 1984, respectively.

On the other hand, Mr. Dean also has been endorsed by two of the nation’s biggest labor unions — the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Except for occasional policy speeches, Mr. Gore largely has stayed out of the political spotlight for most of the past three years. He announced last December that he would not run for the White House in 2004.

But he remains a popular figure in the party, especially among minorities and labor unions. Many Democrats had hoped he would run again, after having come so close to winning last time.

Mr. Gore has delivered several stinging denunciations of Mr. Bush’s policies during the past year. In the summer, he accused the president of creating “false impressions” about his reasons for sending U.S. soldiers into Iraq.

“Millions of Americans now share a feeling that something pretty basic has gone wrong in our country, and that some important American values are being placed at risk, and they want to set it right,” Mr. Gore said.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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