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Democratic Debate Centers on Dean - 2003-12-10

Howard Dean's rivals for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination are not backing down in the wake of Tuesday's announcement by former Vice President Al Gore endorsing the Dean campaign.

The Gore endorsement was great news for the Dean campaign. But his rivals came out swinging during a televised debate in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

When one of the debate moderators asked all nine candidates to raise their hands if they thought Howard Dean could beat President Bush in next November's election, only Mr. Dean raised his hand. One by one, Howard Dean's rivals promised to fight for votes in the upcoming Democratic primaries that begin with the Iowa Caucuses on January 19th.

"This race is not over until votes have been cast and counted," said Massachesetts Senator John Kerry.

Senator Joseph Lieberman was especially hurt by Al Gore's endorsement of the Dean campaign. Senator Lieberman was Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate in the 2000 election and decided to run for the nomination in 2004 only after Mr. Gore decided not to.

"We cared about values. We were interested in cutting taxes for the middle class and working with business to create jobs," said Mr. Lieberman. "Howard Dean, and now Al Gore, I guess, are on the wrong side of each of those issues."

Another complaint about the Gore endorsement came from New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton. He complained that the former vice president was acting as a political boss in trying to direct support to Howard Dean. "We are not going to have any big name come in now and tell us the field should be limited and we can't be heard," he said. "The Republicans shut us up four years ago. Al Gore and no Democrat should shut us up today."

Another rival, North Carolina Senator John Edwards said the Democrats were not going to have a "coronation" for Howard Dean. Yet another, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, said he would run better against President Bush in some key states in the mid-west.

Finally, Mr. Dean got his chance to respond.

"If you guys are upset about Al Gore's endorsement, attack me, don't attack Al Gore," he said. "Al Gore worked too hard in 2000 to lose that election when he really didn't lose the election, he got 500,000 votes more than George Bush and he doesn't deserve to be attacked by anybody up here. He is not a (political) boss."

Much of the rest of the debate was dominated by the Democratic candidates criticizing the president's handling of Iraq. All nine contenders continue to urge a greater effort to enlist international and United Nations involvement in Iraq to smooth the transition to democracy.

With the Gore endorsement, Howard Dean seems to be in a strong position to win the Democratic nomination for president. He leads in the polls in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire and has raised the most money of any of the Democratic candidates, much of it small donations through the Internet.