Candidates Spar Over Iraq in NH

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Howard Dean sharply questioned John Kerry's judgment on Iraq on Saturday as Democratic presidential rivals raced through a final, frozen weekend of campaigning before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

"I would be deeply concerned about that kind of judgment in the White House," said Dean, the one-time front-runner struggling to overcome a reversal that has vaulted Kerry into first place in the New Hampshire polls.

Dean said Kerry opposed the first Persian Gulf War in Iraq in 1991, and supported the 2003 invasion, views contrary to his own. "I think my position has proven to be right twice," Dean added.

In rebuttal, a spokeswoman for Kerry predicted the remarks would backfire. "When is Howard Dean going to realize that voters are tired of these same old angry attacks," said Stephanie Cutter. "Voters are looking for a steady hand, not a clenched fist."

In public, the seven men seeking the nomination against President Bush engaged in the rituals of New Hampshire politics during the day. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark attended a pancake breakfast in the company of actor Ted Danson and actress Mary Steenburgen of "Friends" fame.

Kerry laced up his skates for a hockey game that drew Ray Bourque and other retired Boston Bruins stars back to the ice.

At the same time, though, the campaigns were maneuvering for advantage in the states that vote after New Hampshire, beginning with seven contests in all regions of the country on Feb. 3.

Thus, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who hopes for a breakthrough victory in South Carolina on that day, announced he would compete in Missouri. His campaign has hired two former aides to Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, who dropped out of the race on Tuesday.

"It's late, but it's late for everybody and this gives us a strong team to start with," said a spokeswoman, Jen Palmieri.

The state became competitive when Gephardt quit the race, and its 74 delegates make it the biggest prize of the night.

Kerry, who has benefited from a bounce in the polls since Monday's Iowa caucus victory, is expected to compete in all seven states — particularly so if he finishes strongly in New Hampshire and receives an influx of new campaign contributions.

He, too, was giving new attention to Missouri, and hired Steve Elmendorf, a top aide to Gephardt for a decade.

Dean appears in poor position to absorb a strong setback along the lines of his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. He decided to spend about $500,000 in late television advertising in New Hampshire, leaving his campaign off the air, at least for the time being, in the Feb. 3 states.

"We can win this. What we are seeing in the last few days is that people who went away from us after we lost Iowa are coming back," the former Vermont governor exhorted his New Hampshire supporters during the day.

The polls suggested that Kerry was well ahead and that Dean possibly was still sliding in the wake of his Iowa defeat and a subsequent angry-looking appearance before supporters in the state.

His campaign struggled to rebound. It announced plans to distribute 50,000 copies of a recent ABC "Prime Time" interview granted by the former governor and his wife. The interview, which first aired on Thursday, showed a softer, more relaxed and likable side of Dean than was on display in the hours after his third-place finish in Iowa.

Still, Dean's decision to criticize Kerry marked a potentially risky shift in strategy. There has been little to none of the type of attacks that characterized the end of the Iowa campaign, and the caucus results rewarded Kerry and Edwards, who generally stayed above the fray.

In his remarks about Kerry, Dean said the Massachusetts senator opposed the first Persian Gulf War, which former President George H.W. Bush waged after Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait's oil fields, while supporting the one that ousted the Iraqi dictator in 2003.

Dean took the opposite position in both cases.

"Here is a gentleman who's running, who votes no in 1991 when there are troops in Kuwait and the oil fields are on fire, and then votes yes and there turns out not to be a threat," Dean said.

"I would be deeply concerned about that kind of judgment in the White House. His voting record on Iraq is exactly the opposite of mine, and I think my position has proven to be right twice," Dean said of Kerry.

In other comments with uncertain repercussions, Dean told reporters traveling with him that he had been hit by "under the table" campaigning in Iowa.

Dean said his rivals "had their folks really beating up on the people who went in, trying to get them to change their minds in caucus," and singled out a manual that the Edwards campaign had given to its precinct captains.

"I think Iowa is going to have to change the way it conducts its caucuses if it wants to continue to be first," Dean said.

Kerry during the day picked up the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental organization that had never before backed a candidate in the primary season.

"I intend to put the environment front and center in this race because it is at the center of our lives," said Kerry. "I've worked on these issues all my life."


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