Monday, August 25, 2003

Momentum Forces Dean To Shift to Higher Gear

Howard Dean, who had planned to run as an insurgent on a shoestring, is adjusting his campaign to befit his new lot in life: the well-funded, emerging front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Recent polls show the former Vermont governor leading here and in Iowa, the first two stops on the road to the 2004 nomination, running strong in vote-rich California and surging nationally. To build on the momentum, Dean is expanding operations in key states such as Washington and Michigan, and increasingly reaching out to centrists by talking up balanced budgets and gun rights, an issue with broad appeal in key southern states.

The race remains far too close and volatile to consider any of the nine candidates a true front-runner in a contest much of the public is ignoring, but several rival campaigns now privately talk of the Vermont Democrat as the man to beat. Several challengers are adjusting their campaigns to prepare for a one-on-one showdown with Dean.

"I see ourselves as someone with a big surge, but I don't think we have cemented our position as the front-runner at this point," Dean said in an interview. Still, "we're prepared for all of the attacks we're going to get. Clearly, now, that shoe is on the other foot, and they are going to come after me."

Dean has been getting tutored on foreign policy by numerous experts, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar. He has also had several private conversations with retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who some Democrats see as an attractive running mate for Dean if Clark does not join the race himself.

At the Rotary [Club, where Dean was speaking to a more bipartisan business audience], Dean insisted he is tougher than Bush on national defense, even if he opposed the war in Iraq. He said he supported the Persian Gulf War, the attack on Afghanistan and, unlike Bush, wants to confront Saudi Arabia over its ties to terrorist groups. "Our oil money goes to the Saudis, where it is recycled and some of it is recycled to Hamas and two fundamentalist schools which teach small children to hate Americans, Christians and Jews," Dean said. "This president will not confront the Saudis."

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