Dean sharpens attacks on Kerry

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has sharpened his attacks on Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. As next week’s primary in Wisconsin approaches, some political experts say the strategy is a risky one.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) On the campaign trail this week, Dean has been saying that frontrunner John Kerry’s fundraising tactics are “politically corrupt.” Dean focused on Kerry’s links to former Senator Robert Torricelli, who was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee in 2002 for accepting improper gifts from a supporter.

Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat, has raised money for Kerry and contributed $50,000 for a group that aired attack ads against Dean in Iowa. But Political Science Professor John Bibby, of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee says Dean’s criticism may not resonate with Wisconsin voters.

(Bibby) “Well, I don’t think most people know who Torricelli is, so you have to be someone who follows politics closely to know about Torricelli’s ethically challenged background. I’m not sure this is going to help him much. It looks like kind of desperation really, this new turn toward negativism.”

(Dillon) Professor Byron Shafer teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. He says that Wisconsin should be a good state for Howard Dean. The Democratic Party is strong and generally liberal. But Shafer says Dean’s decision to skip a number of primaries in the last two weeks has put the candidate in a hole he probably can’t climb out of.

(Shafer) “On the one hand, John Kerry continues to roll his momentum, the polls here suggests just gets only bigger. On the other hand if there’s a sort of emerging challenger for him it’s John Edwards rather than Howard Dean. So Dean sort of has a double mountain to climb. He has to become the alternative but in becoming the alternative he has to do extremely well. And all one can say is that’s asking an awful lot.”

(Dillon) Shafer also thinks that Wisconsin voters won’t react favorably to negative campaigning.

(Shafer) “He clearly feels he has to tackle John Kerry, now not just raise his issues but to attack Kerry as a failed frontrunner head who has to be stopped. And this is a state where that kind of politics does not play well.”

(Dillon) Retired General Wesley Clark will travel to Wisconsin Friday and is expected to endorse Kerry. Professor Shafer says Clark’s Wisconsin supporters are more likely to be split between Kerry and Edwards, rather than Kerry and Dean.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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