- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

Democratic leaders and advisers say there is growing anxiety about the prospect of antiwar candidate Howard Dean becoming their presidential nominee next year, which has triggered talk of a “stop Dean” movement in the party.

These Democrats say that the concerns center in large part on Mr. Dean’s bitter opposition to the war in Iraq that, they maintain, will make their party look weak on national security and the war on terrorism in next year’s presidential election.

“There clearly are concerns about Dean’s ability to appeal to the entire country, particularly on national security issues,” former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said in an interview.

“There is concern about how does [Deans antiwar campaign] play out a year from now? How can you compete with President Bush on the national security front? There is some concern about whether Dean can rise to the occasion on this issue,” Mr. Panetta said.

“This country wants to know that whoever is elected president understands the importance of protecting our national security. While there may be one path to winning the nomination, it’s a very different path to winning the presidency,” he said.

Mr. Panetta’s carefully worded remarks reflect widening fears among Democratic leaders here and elsewhere in the party — especially in the South — who say that Mr. Dean is too liberal, not just in his opposition to using military force to topple Saddam Hussein but in his call for repealing all of the Bush tax cuts, imposing regulations on businesses, erecting new trade-protection rules and favoring civil unions for same-sex “marriages.”

Mr. Panetta, who was chief White House adviser to President Clinton, said he speaks regularly with the former president who is said to harbor similar concerns about Mr. Dean’s candidacy. Many party insiders believe that Mr. Clinton encouraged retired Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas to enter the race in an effort to stop the more liberal Mr. Dean from winning the Democratic presidential nomination and to maintain his own de facto control over the party’s political apparatus to help his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, run for president in 2008.

Other Democrats, including advisers to Mr. Dean’s chief rivals, said they have heard increasing discussion about the need to mount a “stop-Dean” drive. They said they expect that to materialize in some form in December when Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and possibly others will air a wave of anti-Dean TV ads in Iowa and elsewhere.

“There’s plenty of talk about Dean being the front-runner among Democrats who want to make sure the nominee is someone who can run in every area of the country, and people are not sure if Dean fits that bill,” said Jim Demers, a Gephardt campaign strategist.

“We have seen all of the candidates ratcheting up their attacks on Dean and I think that is going to get more intensive as we get closer to the primary elections,” Mr. Demers said.

“We have to stop the front-runner, so [anti-Dean TV attack ads] would certainly play into that scenario,” he added.

“Thus far, there is no organized stop-Dean movement, though people talked about it privately” at last week’s Democratic debate in Iowa, said an adviser to another presidential candidate, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But the fact that there has been so much talk about it speaks to a growing pause and concern in the Democratic electorate.

“There is a feeling that Dean is in many ways a rebuke of Clinton’s policies. He is backing away from trade, wants to raise taxes on the middle class and comes across as someone who is not strong on national security,” the adviser said.

“It will ultimately come down to a fight between the party’s liberals and the centrists” over whom they want to lead the Democratic Party next November, he said.

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