- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Top strategists for Democratic presidential hopefuls are complaining privately that too many of the candidates are flip-flopping on issues to appeal to their party’s activists and special interests, making it difficult to produce a clear national front-runner.

They say this failure to project clarity and consistency in their campaigns means many party voters remain undecided about the 10 candidates.

“You could have a situation when one person wins in Iowa, another wins in New Hampshire and yet another wins in South Carolina. Who is the nominee? The momentum situation isn’t there,” said an adviser to a major candidate.

Sixteen weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic candidates appear more divided than ever on Iraq, free trade, raising taxes on the middle class, and how much should be spent on health care for the uninsured.



“You have a number of candidates trying to realign themselves on a number of positions that aren’t playing well with the base of our party, just to pander,” said another senior campaign strategist to one of the top-tier candidates.

Former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, long a free-trade advocate, has now turned into his party’s strongest critic of unfettered trade, pledging to cancel trade agreements with any country whose labor laws do not meet U.S. standards.

Trade protection is the pivotal issue for organized labor, whose unions have been major supporters of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. But Mr. Dean’s new position has helped him move ahead of Mr. Gephardt in Iowa, a big labor state.

Last week, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina called for repealing President Bush’s tariff increases on imported steel, even though he voted for those boosts in the Senate.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who voted for the congressional resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq, has since become one of Mr. Bush’s severest opponents on the conflict.

Perhaps no candidate has flip-flopped more on Iraq than retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas, the newest entry to the race. When he announced his candidacy on Sept. 17, he said he would have voted for the war resolution had he been in the Senate. Two days later, he switched positions, saying he would have voted against the resolution.

The lack of a clear front-runner is similar to the run-up to the 1992 election when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton joined the race. For the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore was the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

This year, the field continues to simmer. After months of confining themselves to attacking Mr. Bush, the candidates in the last few weeks have begun to attack each other.

In a debate last week, Mr. Gephardt, Mr. Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut all took shots at Mr. Dean for his new position on trade and for his past advocacy of cuts in Medicare. Mr. Dean during the weekend criticized Mr. Clark for having supported Republicans in the past and only recently having entered Democratic Party politics.

Some strategists suggest that the Democratic primary battle may be longer than anticipated.

“I don’t think this is going to be settled early,” said the adviser to a major candidate.

“More than likely you will have a big candidate field barreling through Iowa, barreling through New Hampshire and only beginning to winnow out in the February 3 contests in South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Delaware. You will still have maybe five major candidates with money to spend.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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