Presidential contender Howard Dean picked up the endorsement of one of his Democratic rivals Thursday. But public opinion polls suggest an ever-tightening race among several candidates for next Monday's presidential caucus vote in the midwest state of Iowa. It will be the first major test of the 2004 campaign for the White House.
The latest Democrat to join the Dean bandwagon is former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun. She dropped her own bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and urged her supporters in Iowa to rally behind the former Vermont governor in Monday's caucus voting.
"He can, as they say, work well with others around the world and craft a foreign policy that is neither arrogant or pre-emptive, but that begins with respect and builds on alliances," she said.
Mr. Dean was quick to welcome this latest endorsement just as opinion polls suggest an ever-tightening race in Iowa.
The former Vermont governor also paid tribute to Carol Moseley-Braun for setting an example for women and minority presidential candidates.
"And because of what you have done in this campaign," he said, "I very much hope the day [is drawing near] when we will have a woman president or a president who is an African-American step up and take the oath one January 20 (Inauguration Day). Thank you for what you have done."
In addition to winning one term in the U.S. Senate, Ms. Moseley-Braun also served for a time as President Clinton's ambassador to New Zealand. But she never was able to get her presidential campaign off the ground, lagging well behind in both opinion polls and fundraising. She was the only woman in the race and her departure leaves civil rights activist Al Sharpton as the only African-American candidate in the now eight-man Democratic field.
Meanwhile, new polls show the race in Iowa is tighter than ever with only four days to go until Monday night's caucus votes. In recent days, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards have both moved toward the front of the Democratic pack, joining Howard Dean and Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.
Senator Kerry believes he is gaining support in Iowa but he is cautious about reading too much into the latest polls. "I have said all along that I am always wary of polls, whether I am up or down," he said. "You just keep working hard."
Senator Kerry traveled by helicopter Thursday to rally supporters at several locations in Iowa while some of the other candidates made their way around the state in bus caravans.
The Iowa presidential caucuses will formally begin the delegate selection process to choose a nominee among the eight remaining Democratic candidates. Those contenders who do well in Iowa and in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary usually have an advantage in the battle for the party nomination.