- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

TUCSON, Ariz. —Howard Dean yesterday called Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry a “handmaiden of the special interests,” the harshest criticism to date as the pack of contenders tries to prevent Mr. Kerry from running away with the nomination Tuesday.

“We need somebody from outside Washington to clean up Washington, and not another special-interest senator,” Mr. Dean said at a rally here. “We want our country back for ordinary people. We’re not going to do that by nominating just another inside-the-Beltway guy who’s played the game for 15 years.”

Mr. Kerry’s campaign responded that Mr. Dean, of all people, shouldn’t be the one making this argument.

“The charges are coming from a man who still refuses to make 145 boxes of his files public, held secret meetings with energy executives, brags that he needs a separate office to handle all the lobbyist requests and admits that if you give him money, you will get access,” said Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. “This is treacherous ground that Howard Dean is treading on.”

Mr. Kerry told reporters later in the day that he had not been compromised.

“If anybody in America thinks a $1,000 contribution measured against $14 million in a campaign is somehow going to sway my campaign, there is a level of cynicism I can’t address,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Mr. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, is trying to resurrect his candidacy as seven states hold primaries or caucuses Tuesday. Polls show Mr. Kerry has a strong lead in the two big-prize states of Arizona and Missouri, which come with a combined 129 delegates. But Sen. John Edwards is leading in South Carolina, while Wesley Clark is leading in Oklahoma.

But various polls have vastly different readings on how big those leads are. In the Zogby-MSNBC-Reuters poll, Mr. Kerry leads in Missouri with 46 percent to Mr. Edwards’ second-place 13 percent, while the CNN-Los Angeles Times poll gives Mr. Kerry a 37-11 lead.

In South Carolina, Zogby puts Mr. Edwards’ lead at 26 percent to 22 percent over Mr. Kerry, far short of the 32 percent to 20 percent lead the CNN poll shows.

Delaware also holds a primary, while North Dakota and New Mexico hold caucuses Tuesday.

Mr. Dean is pursuing a strategy even his new campaign chief executive officer, Roy Neel, acknowledges has never been tried before — not win any Feb. 3 state but hope for third-place finishes to keep him alive.

In a memo to reporters and supporters Friday night, Mr. Neel said the campaign then is in a position to play for Michigan and Washington state on Feb. 7 and Wisconsin on Feb. 17.

“The media and the party insiders will attempt to declare Kerry the winner on February 3 after fewer than 10 percent of the state delegates have been chosen,” Mr. Neel wrote, saying that New York, Florida and California won’t have voted by then, and linking that to the 2000 Bush-Gore recount, which he called “a perversion of democracy.”

Just last week Mr. Dean’s campaign was predicting Michigan would be his springboard, but now his campaign is backing off and pointing to Wisconsin as the big test. Part of the reason is that Mr. Kerry won the backing of Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm in Michigan yesterday.

The Dean campaign now hopes Mr. Edwards and Mr. Clark halt some of Mr. Kerry’s momentum on Tuesday, then sputter themselves and leave a Dean-Kerry matchup for Wisconsin, the sole state holding a contest on Feb. 17.

In his efforts, Mr. Edwards is concentrating on South Carolina, though he campaigned yesterday in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, was in Arizona and New Mexico yesterday, and he has shifted his focus back from Mr. Kerry to President Bush.

“George W. Bush is going to run on his national security record,” Mr. Clark said in Mesilla, N.M. “I know more about national security than George W. Bush has ever thought about, and I can hold him accountable.”

With Mr. Kerry apparently running away with the vote in Missouri, the Southwestern states appear to be the biggest battleground for Tuesday.

An Albuquerque Journal poll last week showed Mr. Dean and Mr. Clark statistically tied in New Mexico.

And a new Arizona Republic newspaper poll showed Mr. Kerry with 27 percent support and Mr. Clark with 18 percent support, while Mr. Dean was third with 13 percent in Arizona. Both the Zogby and CNN polls also showed Mr. Kerry leading, though Zogby showed Mr. Kerry up by 16 percent while CNN put his lead at 7 percent.

Mr. Kerry has kept his focus on Mr. Bush, allowing surrogates and campaign staff to answer charges like Mr. Dean’s yesterday.

Mr. Dean and his surrogates, meanwhile, are looking for any angle to attack Mr. Kerry.

Yesterday in Tucson, retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar said Mr. Kerry didn’t show leadership by voting to authorize war in Iraq and now claiming he was misled.

Gen. Hoar, a Dean supporter, said he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Mr. Kerry is a member, in summer 2002, for a day and a half.

“Senator Kerry appeared for 20 minutes, asked two questions and left. This is the guy that was duped,” he said.

Mr. Dean’s charges yesterday about Mr. Kerry’s ties to lobbyists was based on an article in The Washington Post that found Mr. Kerry was the top Senate recipient of lobbyist contributions during the past 15 years.

Meanwhile, on the organizational front, Mr. Edwards’ office in Raleigh experienced a computer snafu that had reporters receiving by e-mail dozens of old news releases from November, December and earlier this month.

“We experienced technology issues here at Raleigh Headquarters last night, which caused our server to send out a random assortment of old news. Rest assured, we are taking steps to ensure this does not happen again,” Jeremy Van Ess said in an e-mail appropriately titled “This is not an old e-mail.”

This article is based in parts on wire service reports.

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