- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

The Democrats' bitter split over Iraq broke wide open yesterday at their winter meeting when presidential candidate Howard Dean won standing ovations as he sharply rebuked party leaders and his political rivals for backing President Bush's war policies.
The long-simmering division in the party over whether to go to war to disarm Saddam Hussein erupted at the second day of the Democratic National Committee's gathering to preview its presidential contenders, who denounced many of Mr. Bush's policies and vowed to defeat him in 2004.
"What I want to know is, why is the Democratic Party leadership supporting the president's unilateral war on Iraq?" the former Vermont governor asked DNC members who were packed into a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, with an overflow audience in two adjacent rooms. Why, he asked, jabbing a finger into the air for emphasis, did three of his Democratic rivals back the administration's war resolution in Congress?
"I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." That line was greeted with thunderous applause and shouts of approval from rank-and-file party officials. He questioned why Democrats had supported Mr. Bush's tax cuts or education proposals, which he described as meaningless. And he challenged his party "to stand for something." He left the podium to shouts of "Howard, Howard."
The most prolonged response came when he said, "White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them, because their kids don't have health insurance, either, and their kids need better schools, too."
When the speeches were over, all the buzz was about Mr. Dean's performance. "I thought that Dean blew the roof off today. There was no mealy-mouth, wishy-washiness about it. It was very gutsy," former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson said. It was a view that was widely shared by other DNC members, as measured by nearly a dozen interviews.
Until now, Mr. Dean was a dark-horse contender who has been campaigning for more than a year and impressing Democrats, though getting little national attention. But yesterday Democrats were elevating him to a higher tier and comparing him to a little-known governor who won the presidency in 1976: Jimmy Carter of Georgia.
Compared with Mr. Dean's reception, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut received a tepid response when they explained their reasons for supporting Mr. Bush's war plans in Iraq. The response to former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois was somewhat muted despite her opposition to military action.
When Mr. Gephardt said, "I'm proud that I wrote the resolution that helped lead the president to make his case to the United Nations," someone in the audience shouted, "Shame."
Mr. Lieberman, considered the most conservative of the Democratic contenders, delivered the most forceful defense for using military action to topple Saddam. Although he criticized the president for not doing enough to lead a broader international coalition, Mr. Lieberman said, "The objective is correct and critical to American security."
"Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction must be destroyed sooner rather than later; because sooner or later, if we do not, they will be used against us," he said.
Mrs. Moseley-Braun attacked Mr. Bush's plans to invade Iraq. She said the president was "in a mad rush to pre-emptive, unilateral military action" that would isolate the United States and put the country on "perpetual alert."
"Duct tape is no substitute for diplomacy, and the saber rattling that has made us all hostages to fear must stop," she said in a relatively low-key but politely received speech.
The field of Democratic candidates has grown to eight, and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said yesterday that "it could climb to 9 or 10 or higher." Interviews with DNC members and state chairmen showed no clear national front-runner, but after Mr. Dean spoke, several DNC national committee officials said they were taking a closer look at his prospects.
"Dean came out best. He put himself on the line and challenged the party. That's what we're looking for right now. I was very impressed," said Ken Foxworth, a DNC member from Minnesota.
"He's the type of dynamic candidate we need. He has a vision for this country that I like," said Christine Montague, a DNC member from Michigan.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said that "Dean won the day hands down," adding that his feisty delivery and anti-war rhetoric "could carry the day in many state primaries." But she did not see his anti-war agenda "winning the White House, because people want to be sure that we protect our national security and our homeland."
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, one of the party's rising stars, who is running newspaper ads around the country promoting his recently enacted plan to cut state income taxes by 40 percent, will address the DNC today.
Democratic presidential candidates the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina are scheduled to address the DNC today.


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