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Jewish World Review July 25, 2003 / 25 Tamuz, 5763

Roger Simon

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The race is on to define Dean | It was not that long ago that some Democrats feared they would have one prohibitively popular front-runner for their presidential nomination who would drown out all other voices.

That front-runner was supposed to be Al Gore, the nominee in 2000. But late last year, Gore ended up scamming the national press into giving him oodles of publicity not for a presidential run, as they thought, but to sell his new book. (The book was a flop.)

This left Joe Lieberman free to run, and Lieberman might have become the front-runner — lots of experience, high name recognition, a lead in the national polls — but he has thus far failed even to smolder, let alone catch fire.

Which left a group of serious contenders that included two well-known Democrats — John Kerry and Dick Gephardt — and an attractive, first-term senator, who had a lot of media buzz going — John Edwards.

The trouble with all of them, including Lieberman, is that they voted for the war in Iraq, while it was clear to anyone who was attending party rallies that the party was opposed to the war. True, such rallies were made up of the hard-core party faithful, but these are exactly the people who dominate primaries and caucuses.

In other words, the Democratic Party had a leadership that was out of touch with its core.

Even when the Pro-War Four gave speeches and got good receptions, the best-received lines were those that seemed to question the war or took on President Bush.

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John Kerry, who had voted for the war, told a meeting of the California Democratic Party in March: "The United States of America should never go to war because it wants to; we should to war because we have to!"

That got a lot of applause. But, then, a man shouted from the crowd: "Then why did you vote for it?"

That got even bigger applause.

Later, Howard Dean wowed the crowd when he said: "What I want to know is what in the world are so many Democrats doing supporting the president's unilateral war in Iraq?"

Largely because of his opposition to the war and his straightforward and seemingly "authentic" manner, Dean has now raised far more money and garnered far more support than anyone thought possible.

Although just a few months ago it was unimaginable, some political analysts now entertain at least the possibility that Dean could win both Iowa and New Hampshire. (Which is very difficult: Gore did it in 2000, but among both Democrats and Republicans, you have to go all the way back to Jimmy Carter in 1976 before you find another dual winner in a contest not involving an incumbent president.)

I went back into my clips to see the first mention I ever made of Howard Dean. In January, I wrote: "Howard Dean does have charisma, but it is the kind that appeals to college-educated, relatively well-to-do voters. He wowed the crowd in Marion (Iowa) on Saturday, but how well he can do on the farms and in the factories remains to be seen."

It still does, but Dean has definitely moved to the top tier of candidates. I don't know anyone who has gone out on a limb and called him the front-runner, but some now think he will be one of the last two men left standing.

The race is on to define Dean, and the easiest way seems to be to compare him to past candidates. The centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which loathes and fears Dean, says he represents the "McGovern-Mondale" wing of the party. An article in the New Republic this week says that while "Dean's personal style apes McCain, his candidacy structurally resembles that of another insurgent: Steve Forbes" and an op-ed piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday said, "The candidate whom Dean more nearly resembles is the 1968 anti-war insurgent, Eugene McCarthy."

I have met with Howard Dean a number of times, seen him speak to a number of different groups in a number of states and have interviewed him at some length.

And I have come to the conclusion that the candidate whom Howard Dean most nearly resembles is Howard Dean.

Who'd a thunk it?

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate