Dean's surge poses challenges for him, Democratic rivals

Sunday, July 13, 2003

HOPKINTON, N.H. -- Raising $7.5 million for his campaign was the easy part. Now Democrat Howard Dean says he must urgently expand his political machine, broaden his message and soften the rough edges of his personality.

Although two of his rivals, John Kerry and John Edwards, have collected more money overall, and others have put more cash in reserve, Dean's fund-raising haul from April to June has shaken up a race that now has three distinct tiers of candidates -- but no front-runners.

His foes for the Democratic nomination are sharpening their rhetoric as Dean tries to ensure his momentum doesn't outstrip a relatively immature campaign based in Burlington, Vt.

"We're learning as we go along," the former Vermont governor said between stops in New Hampshire that drew large crowds and tested his acknowledged lack of patience.

Dean shares top-tier status with Kerry, the decorated Vietnam War veteran and favorite of much of the Democratic establishment, and former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a Midwest populist with strong ties to organized labor.

Support for the trio is evenly divided in Iowa, site of the first 2004 voting. Polls in New Hampshire, which holds its primary a week after Iowa's caucuses, show Kerry leading, followed closely by Dean, with Gephardt back in the pack.

Gephardt, whose advantage in Iowa has slipped with donors shying from his campaign, recently stepped up criticism of his rivals. His opponents hope the strategy is a sign of desperation; Gephardt says it's simply politics.

Stepping up the criticism

"In any election it is necessary and valid for candidates to engage in debate or discussion about the differences in their positions," he said. "That is beginning."

Kerry, too, plans to increase his attacks, but his target is Bush.

The Massachusetts senator plans to question Bush's credibility next week by citing a pattern of deception on national security and domestic issues, aides said.

Democratic activists are watching three other candidates for signs of a breakthrough -- Sens. Edwards of North Carolina, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida. None can be written off.

Lieberman, who has money problems and a moderate message at odds with many primary voters, plans to sharpen his criticism of Bush's economic record next week, aides said. Edwards, a freshman senator loaded with campaign cash but lagging in polls, will spend more time on retail politics -- his strong suit -- and innovative policies. He may begin airing ads as early as August.

Graham trails in polls and has raised the least amount of money. The next three months are pivotal for his candidacy.

Al Sharpton of New York, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich are long shots.

It's clear that Dean is not going away, at least not soon. He plans to open political offices next month in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin, with other states to follow, said campaign manager Joe Trippi.

After attracting followers with his anti-war positions, Dean has begun to stress his more centrist credentials, including a fiscally conservative record in Vermont and a history of tangling with state liberals.

"Maybe they'll stop writing that I'm too liberal to be elected," Dean said Friday night as Kucinich, Sharpton and Braun endorsed gay marriage, universal college education and a federal Department of Peace.

"It's nice to be a centrist for a change," he said, grinning.

A physician by trade, Dean usually is an affable politician, but he has a doctor's sense of superiority and a governor's expectation of instant results. Both traits can make him appear prickly and intense.

Asked in an interview what he needed to improve as a candidate, Dean fired back, "Lots of things."

Are you patient enough?

"No," Dean replied. A two-beat pause, and ...

"I'll get more patient. I'm very results-oriented. I want things to work, and I want them to work now."

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