Dean appeals for halt to attack politics within Democratic circ

Sunday, December 21, 2003

MAQUOKETA, Iowa -- Howard Dean appealed to fellow Democratic presidential candidates Saturday to stop the bitter attack politics that have come to dominate the race for the party's nomination. The race needs "a little character transplant," he said.

"It's not necessary to tear down the other opponents," said Dean, whose front-running campaign has come increasingly under fire from Democratic rivals.

In his latest swing through Iowa, where the nominating process starts with caucuses next month, Dean pushed hard at his claim to being an outsider running against Washington-based candidates with no record of accomplishment.

"There are five or six people running for president right now who have a chance at winning," Dean said. "I'm the only person who has done anything about trying to get health care."

Dean is bunched with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt in Iowa, but he has developed a wide lead in other early states such as New Hampshire. As his campaign has developed momentum, he's come under fire with regularity.

"This campaign needs a little character transplant," Dean said. "You shouldn't believe what other people say."

Dean argues that his Internet-based campaign is broadening the Democratic Party and offers the most realistic chance of ousting President Bush. He urged backers to commit not only to supporting him but also to changing the party.

"It has to be about rebuilding the Democratic party," said Dean.

Dean argued that his 12 years as governor of Vermont give him experience unmatched by his rivals and a record that draws the sharpest contrast with President Bush.

Poll numbers

Dean retains a solid lead over John Kerry, double his margin of just two months ago, and Wesley Clark is the only other Democratic presidential candidate with double-digit support in a poll out Saturday.

The poll shows, however, that Bush easily would beat any of them in an election held now. New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is Jan. 27.

Head to head with Bush, the poll of 600 likely voters gave the president a 25-percentage point lead over Dean, 57-32 percent; 15 points over Kerry, 55-40 percent, and Joe Lieberman 54-39 percent; and 19 points over Clark, 56-37 percent, and Gephardt, 55-36 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Dean, a former Vermont governor, boasted a 24-percentage point lead over Massachusetts Sen. Kerry, 41 percent to 17 percent. Retired Army Gen. Clark showed up third, with 13 percent, followed by Sens. Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina at 6 percent; and Reps. Gephardt of Missouri at 4 percent and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio at 1 percent. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun attracted less than one percent.

Twelve percent of the 402 Democrats questioned said they were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Similar polls for the Monitor show Dean steadily building support since March, from 11 percent in March to this month's 41 percent. Kerry steadily dropped, from 38 percent in March to this month's 17 percent this month. Kerry trailed by 12 percentage points in October, half the latest margin.

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