- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Iowa caucus voters preferred Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s credibility on national security to Howard Dean’s electricity on Monday, but the Iowa victor will have a tougher go in New Hampshire.

There, Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who steadfastly has supported the war in Iraq, also are laying claim to being the candidate who can stand up to President Bush.

“People want to feel confident about the candidate they’re going to put on that stage during the debates with George Bush,” said Mo Elleithee, spokesman for Mr. Clark’s New Hampshire effort.

Iowa’s precinct caucuses gave Mr. Kerry 38 percent of delegate votes to the state caucuses — the measure of support in Iowa’s unique system. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina placed second with 32 percent of delegates’ support.

Mr. Dean, who had been considered the front-runner, dropped to third. In interviews during the caucuses and the days leading up to it, voter after voter said they concluded that the former Vermont governor simply was not electable.

All three candidates took early morning flights to New Hampshire, where the first primary occurs Tuesday.

After landing in Manchester yesterday morning, Mr. Kerry said he expects that Mr. Bush will try to turn the election into a referendum on national security.

“Well, I know something about aircraft carriers for real,” Mr. Kerry said. “And if George W. Bush wants to make national security the central issue in this campaign, I have three words for him I know he understands: Bring it on.”

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who didn’t endorse anyone in the race — though his wife, Christie, backed Mr. Kerry — said national security as a threshold issue popped up about a month ago.

“It became an even more relevant question after Saddam Hussein’s capture, and the reaction of the respective candidates to that capture raised some concern on the part of Iowa voters,” Mr. Vilsack said.

After the former Iraqi leader’s capture, Mr. Dean questioned whether the United States was any safer for it.

Caucuses lend themselves to the sort of close examination that cost Mr. Dean in the end. Of the voters who made up their mind in the week before the caucuses, Mr. Kerry won 39 percent, Mr. Edwards won 35 percent, and Mr. Dean won only 14 percent.

Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Clark didn’t participate in the caucuses, but now they are planning to present themselves as alternatives to Mr. Kerry on national security.

At a rally in Manchester yesterday, Mr. Clark told supporters he would be the “candidate who can take on George W. Bush in November, and win” on taxes, education, health care and security.

“We need a candidate who, in a time of war, can stand toe to toe with the president on national security,” he said.

Mr. Lieberman’s camp, meanwhile, is looking to Mr. Edwards’ performance in Iowa for inspiration.

Like Mr. Lieberman now, Mr. Edwards was languishing in single digits in some Iowa polls about a week before the caucuses. But Craig Smith, Mr. Lieberman’s campaign director, yesterday said the endorsement by the Des Moines Register began a good week for Mr. Edwards that propelled him into second place.

For his part, Mr. Lieberman yesterday picked up the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader, the largest paper in New Hampshire.

Mr. Smith said Mr. Lieberman also can compete with Mr. Bush on security.

“As they realize how serious this choice is, they’re going to take a look at all these candidates and evaluate that Senator Lieberman is the strongest to take on President Bush,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said Mr. Lieberman has been telling voters that he opposed Saddam and Osama bin Laden “since before George Bush knew how to spell their names.”

Still to be seen is whether Mr. Dean can recover from his third-place showing in Iowa, garnering fewer than half the delegates Mr. Kerry got — a major disappointment for a campaign that had claimed to have a strong organization that would turn out thousands of new caucusgoers.

One Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Dean’s campaign had predicted winning the support of at least 40,000 voters on Monday. He actually won about half that, the strategist said.

Mr. Vilsack said in the end Mr. Kerry proved to have a better organization. The Kerry campaign gave Mr. Vilsack a target for the number of supporters they had identified — a number they hit almost exactly.

Mr. Vilsack also said Mr. Dean’s enthusiastic volunteers from outside the state didn’t seem to translate into votes from Iowans looking for the best Bush opponent.

“It is about making sure that the person going up against President Bush is prepared to lead, and also has a vision for a better America that’s hopeful, optimistic and makes people feel safe,” he said.


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