Gore endorsement gives major boost to Dean campaign

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(Host) Political analysts say former Vice President Al Gore’s endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean will give a major boost to Dean’s candidacy all across the country.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Steffen Schmidt, who’s a political science professor at Iowa State University, is a long time observer of politics in that state. Schmidt says Dean was doing very well in Iowa before the Gore endorsement, but now Schmidt thinks Dean is poised to score a major victory in the Iowa caucuses on January 19:

(Schmidt) “What this does is, it begins to give activists in the party a sense that maybe some of the national party leaders are beginning to come around to a single candidate. So that you don’t have more blood letting among the Democrats. And it gives him, that is Dean, a very nice kind of additional momentum in Iowa which he already has.”

(Kinzel) In most polls, Dean and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt are running very close in Iowa. Professor Schmidt says the Gore endorsement is a major blow to Gephardt:

(Schmidt) “I think Dean is pretty much the guy to beat and I think Gephardt must be just agonizing that after all his efforts, all his work in Iowa in the years and years that he’s been a neighbor here. Even though he is still sort of number one or number two – depending on the day of the week and the hour of the day – he doesn’t have the spin behind him, he doesn’t have the aura of someone who is now out of the station and moving down the tracks quickly.”

(Kinzel) Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, thinks the Gore endorsement will strengthen Dean’s campaign in New Hampshire and virtually every other early primary state:

(West) “It’s a big boost for Dean across the country because Al Gore provides instant credibility among people who take the Democratic Party very seriously. Gore won the national popular vote in the year 2000 and so there’s a type of support and credibility that Gore can offer that really no one else can provide.”

(Kinzel) West thinks the Democratic presidential race has now come down to two candidates – Dean and “the alternative to Dean”:

(West) “Lieberman’s campaign has really lagged. Kerry has pretty much self destructed. So I don’t see them emerging as the alternative but Gephardt is still very much in the running. Clark is a possibility and Edwards is probably a long shot but still in the running.”

(Kinzel) West says Gore’s endorsement of Dean also highlights a fierce struggle that’s going on inside the Democratic Party. It shows a sharp division between Gore and former president Bill Clinton, who’s been working behind the scenes to support the candidacy of General Wesley Clark in an effort to stop Dean.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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