- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

The heat of the summer usually brings with it a wilting of politics, but a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination for president is keeping the candidates sweating on the campaign trail.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has considerable momentum after beating his rivals in fund raising from April through June with $7.4 million. He is in a virtual dead heat in the polls with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary.

In a poll released last week in Iowa, Mr. Dean leapt from the single-digit doldrums to within striking distance of the caucus front-runner, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Meanwhile, Al Gore’s 2000 running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has kept pace with fund raising — if barely — and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, though lagging across the board in the polls, continues to tap donors.

“This is a fascinating race if you love politics,” said Dante Scala, political science professor at New Hampshire’s St. Anselm College. “It’s a full-court, five-on-five game.”

Mr. Dean’s ability to raise $3 million in online donations in the last week of fund raising in June — in the wake of his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — is indicative of a growing national base. The Dean campaign’s Web site claims 43,000 people contributed an average of $74.14 to his campaign.

“He got his butt kicked on ‘Meet the Press’ and got good press out of it,” said Dick Harpootlian, former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “He’s got the Big Mo [momentum] right now. He’s got it nationally and you’re starting to see it in South Carolina right now.”

Mr. Dean also has begun to reach out to New Mexico, where a staffer said his history of supporting homosexual rights has made him popular with the state’s substantial and politically active homosexual population.

“The Dean people have been here several times,” said the New Mexico Democratic Party staffer. “Dean is all I hear about.”

They will be hearing about Mr. Kerry soon, as he has an overnight visit to New Mexico planned for Friday.

Mr. Lieberman also has looked out West, bragging that he is the first candidate to open shop in Arizona. His strategy seems to be to cede Iowa and New Hampshire and impress Democrats with good showings in the slate of Feb. 3 primaries — Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Missouri and Oklahoma.

“Lieberman’s not looking to Iowa and New Hampshire as much as he is on the bunch of primaries on Feb. 3,” said Jennifer Duffy, political analyst for the Cook Political Report. “Those states are more favorable to him than Iowa and New Hampshire will ever be.”

Mr. Lieberman will be in Virginia for a fund-raiser July 15, followed the next day by one event each in South Carolina and Georgia, which holds its primary on March 2.

Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University who ran Mr. Gephardt’s campaigns for Congress in the early 1980s, said his former boss is “having trouble.”

“I’ve talked to his organization about it,” Mr. Warren said. “The organization is going well, particularly in the public opinion polls, but the money is lagging behind. They describe it as somewhat disappointing.”

That said, Mr. Gephardt’s ability to raise $5 million in the last quarter should give him enough money to last in the early primaries.

“It would be ridiculous to count him out, especially when you consider that he will win the Iowa caucuses,” Mr. Warren said.

Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Votenet Solutions’ Campaigns & Elections magazine, said the only sure thing is that “you don’t have a leading candidate right now.”

“Anyone relying on a one-trick pony strategy … that won’t work,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, it’s really wide open.”

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