- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Howard Dean, trying to quell a politically damaging flap over the Confederate battle flag, apologized yesterday for inflicting “a lot of pain on people” by urging Democrats to court Southerners who display the symbol of the Confederacy.

In one of the most tumultuous days of his front-running campaign, the Democratic presidential candidate accused his rivals of misconstruing his remarks and pledged to continue reaching out to Southern white voters despite the criticism.

But he sought to put the matter to rest — first by expressing regret and, hours later, by apologizing in an interview with the Associated Press. Rivals accused him of saying too little, too late after he had declined in Tuesday night’s debate to admit error.

“Many people in the African-American community have supported what I said in the past few days because they understand what this is about,” the former Vermont governor said. “But some have not, and to those, I deeply regret the pain that I may have caused.”

Speaking at New York’s Cooper Union, Mr. Dean stopped short of apologizing and vowed not to shirk from “difficult and painful” discussions about race relations. “Feelings will be hurt,” he said.

Later, he called the AP to clarify the comments in his speech.

“That was an apology. You heard it from me,” Mr. Dean said. “It was a remark that inflicted a lot of pain on people for whom the flag of the Confederacy is a painful symbol of racism and slavery.”

Still defensive, Mr. Dean said he stood by his broader point that Democrats must court Southern whites who have voted for Republicans and, he said, received nothing in return.

“My remarks were misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues” in the race, he told the AP.

Mr. Dean called and apologized to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had challenged Mr. Dean on the debate stage.

A day earlier, Mr. Dean refused in an eight-candidate debate to admit he erred by using the Confederate battle flag as a political tool — causing even admirers to question his judgment.

“If he didn’t realize as a candidate for the nomination that his words were poorly chosen and that he should say he was wrong, what does it say about his judgment as the actual nominee?” said Waring Howe Jr., a member of the Democratic National Committee in South Carolina.

The state holds a critical Feb. 3 primary, and up to half of Democratic voters in South Carolina are black.

“It was an idiotic thing to say,” said Mr. Howe, an uncommitted Democrat who has considered Mr. Dean to be one of his top three candidates. “Couldn’t he have simply said we need to appeal to the ‘Bubba vote’ or ‘good ol’ boy vote’?”

Rival John Edwards, who complained in the debate about Northerners, such as Mr. Dean, telling Southerners what to do, grudgingly accepted Mr. Dean’s response — going so far as to call it an apology.

“It sounds like he’s done the right thing. It would have been better if he’d done it last night,” said the North Carolina senator, adding that it remains to be seen how the American voters view Mr. Dean’s statements.

Also campaigning in New Hampshire, Joe Lieberman said Mr. Dean’s refusal to accept blame in the debate may point to a larger personality flaw. “A leader has to be strong enough to admit a mistake,” the Connecticut senator said.

Said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts: “Howard Dean should have taken responsibility for his rhetoric and simply said, ‘I was wrong.’”

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