- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The emerging Democratic presidential field for 2004 is short on stature in the party's effort to unseat President Bush, say some campaign strategists and pundits.

Less than a year before the presidential-primary campaigns officially begin, the Democratic pack of candidates is taking shape. With few exceptions, they are little-known among voters. There is not a major-state governor among them. Most are from Congress, which has not sent a sitting member to the White House since 1960.

With former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, out of the running, the remaining candidates are drawing poor reviews from pundits, even those on the left.

"The Democrats are pathetic. With Tom Daschle out, they don't even have seven dwarfs," Maureen Dowd, the liberal columnist for the New York Times, wrote last week, referring to the Democratic leader in the Senate. The term "seven dwarfs" was first used to describe the Democratic field of candidates in the 1988 presidential election against the Republican nominee, Vice President George Bush, the president's father.

Thus far, the Democratic lineup includes former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri; and Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mr. Gore's 2000 running mate; John Edwards of North Carolina, a freshman in the fourth year of a six-year term; and John Kerry of Massachusetts, who has a voting record as liberal as fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, running on enacting a universal health care system, and New York civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton round out the list. Others may run, including Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a former two-term governor; Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut; and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.

"The Democrats have the old Seven Dwarfs problem," said the New York Times' conservative columnist William Safire just before Mr. Daschle dropped out. "You don't have somebody like an Al Gore who is the dominant force."

Both Mr. Safire and Miss Dowd have referred to the Democratic candidates as the "six dwarfs."

As of now, Mr. Gephardt is believed to be the front-runner in Iowa, the first party caucus, while polls show Mr. Kerry, helped by his next-door-neighbor status, leading in New Hampshire, with 27 percent. Mr. Dean, a frequent visitor from neighboring Vermont, is in second place, with 15 percent. Everyone else is in single digits, with 38 percent undecided, according to the American Research Group, a New Hampshire polling company.

Most of these candidates are campaigning in the belief that the winner of their party's nomination will have to establish credentials and fund-raising prowess early or be quickly left behind in next year's compressed primary races.

Democratic officials say the race for their party's nomination is wide open, though some worry that Mr. Gore's departure has left the Democrats without a strong, well-known candidate. "There is no Bigfoot among them," said a Democratic campaign strategist who did not want to be identified.

But Democratic state chairmen say they are excited by the crop of candidates.

"To those who refer to them as the six dwarfs, I say they are talking about knocking off a midget. George Bush is increasingly the emperor without clothes. He is seen as a saber rattler, with the country going down the toilet economically. On education, health care and the economy, we are headed in the wrong direction," said Dick Harpootlian, Democratic state chairman of South Carolina.

A rising dark horse is Mr. Dean, who appeals to his party's liberal wing. "Howard Dean has been here a lot, dozens of times, and I think he has had an impact among voters here," said New Hampshire Democratic state Chairman Kathleen Sullivan.

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