- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean assailed front-runner Sen. John Kerry yesterday for being part of “the corrupt political culture in Washington,” and said Sen. John Edwards has a better chance of unseating President Bush in the general election.

Struggling to right his winless campaign, Mr. Dean focused on the disclosure that former Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, who now raises money for Mr. Kerry, donated $50,000 to an independent group that ran divisive ads in three early-voting states.

The commercials showed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden as the group sought to raise doubts about Mr. Dean’s national-security credentials.

“What we now see is John Kerry is part of the corrupt political culture in Washington,” Mr. Dean said.

“The link is unassailable,” Mr. Dean said, describing Mr. Torricelli as “ethically challenged.” Amid an ethics scandal, Mr. Torricelli quit his 2002 re-election bid five weeks before Election Day.

Nearly all the donors to the group, Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values, were backers of former presidential candidate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the Missouri congressman who staked his candidacy on Iowa and was in a head-to-head battle with Mr. Dean there weeks ago.

In a separate interview, Mr. Dean told CBS News that he believes Mr. Edwards of North Carolina would be the better candidate for the Democratic Party in November’s election, even though Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts has the advantage right now.

“My fear is that he [Mr. Kerry] actually won’t be the strongest Democratic candidate,” the former Vermont governor told the network.

Kerry spokesman David Wade called it “another day, another Dean act of desperation.” Mr. Wade said that Mr. Kerry has a record of fighting special interests in Washington and that Democratic voters across the country have said they want his leadership in the White House.

Asked about Mr. Dean’s comment, Mr. Edwards told reporters: “I agree with that. I think that he is a very wise man. … The truth is that this campaign to bring about change is working with independents and voters that we will have to get in order to win the general election.”

Mr. Kerry retreated to his home in Georgetown yesterday, nursing a cough and making phone calls after dominating Tuesday’s primaries in Tennessee and Virginia, making him the winner of 12 of 14 caucuses and primaries. He returns to the campaign trail tomorrow with stops in Wisconsin, which holds a primary on Tuesday, and in Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday.

With the nomination within reach, Mr. Kerry’s mushrooming political team have put Mr. Bush firmly in their sights and are discussing strategies for sharpening his message and spending his money.

“Going toe-to-toe with President Bush is … the best way to secure the Democratic nomination,” Democratic strategist Michael Feldman said. His former boss, Al Gore, polished off the 2000 Democratic nominating struggle while at the same time eyeing Mr. Bush.

Mr. Dean, once the race’s high-flying front-runner, and Mr. Edwards are hoping to close the gap, beginning in Wisconsin, and stay alive until March 2 when several delegate-rich states, including New York and California, hold nominating contests. Mr. Edwards’ lone victory was in South Carolina, but he has been the second-place finisher in the majority of events.

Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, decided to quit the race after dismal third-place showings on Tuesday.

Mr. Edwards’ strategy is to stifle any Dean comeback in Wisconsin to emerge as the obvious alternative to Mr. Kerry and capitalize on being the sole Southerner left in the race.

“He’s ahead, and I’m the underdog,” Mr. Edwards said of Mr. Kerry. “But I’m in the place that I wanted to be — one-on-one with somebody, in this case, Senator Kerry.”

“I’m going to be the nominee,” Mr. Edwards said in a separate interview. “I’m definitely staying in.”

Mr. Edwards received some words of encouragement from a Democratic stalwart — former President Clinton. In an interview with USA Today, Mr. Clinton said there are reasons for Mr. Edwards to stay in the race.

“A lot of times things happen late in the race” that sometimes make a difference and sometimes don’t, Mr. Clinton said, adding, “Look at the elections of the last 30 years. And ask yourself, is this election the same or different?”

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