Published on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 by the Toronto Star
Gore Signals War to be Key Issue in Vote
Calls Invasion Catastrophic Error
by Tim Harper
WASHINGTON—Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination is the clearest signal yet that party elders are determined to fight next year's U.S. election on the war in Iraq.
It's also a sign that Gore, a party heavyweight, has joined those angry, anti-George W. Bush militants who want to yank the Democrats away from the centrist positions he played a major part in crafting as vice-president during the Bill Clinton years.
Gore, who won more votes for president in 2000 than Bush, gave the former Vermont governor his biggest boost yet yesterday, endorsing the front-running candidate at a breakfast in Harlem, then later at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Gore has been a leading opponent of the war from outside the official political process while Dean has championed the same cause as a candidate.
"He was the only major candidate who made the correct judgment about the Iraq war," Gore said. "And he had the insight and the courage to say and do the right thing.
"And that's important, because those judgments, that basic common sense is what you want in a president."
Gore called U.S. President Bush's invasion a "catastrophic mistake" and the worst foreign policy decision in more than two centuries of American history.
"Our country has been weakened in its ability to fight the war against terror because of the catastrophic mistake the Bush administration made in taking us into war in Iraq," Gore said in New York.
"It was Osama bin Laden who attacked us, not Saddam Hussein. We need to remake the Democratic party, we need to remake America, we need to take it back on behalf of the people of this country."
With his surprise backing of Dean, Gore was in fact indicting other Democratic presidential candidates who backed the war resolution — Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, and most notably, his running mate in 2000, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.
Yesterday, Lieberman said he didn't even receive a courtesy call from Gore before learning from a reporter that his old running mate was backing Dean.
"I was caught completely off guard, no notice," Lieberman said on NBC's Today Show.
The other top-tier candidate among the field of nine, former NATO Gen. Wesley Clark, said he would "probably" have backed the war resolution, a position he immediately recanted.
Gore was also seeking to shorten the Democratic race, calling on other candidates to rally behind the frontrunner and, many speculated yesterday, trying to differentiate himself from New York Senator Hillary Clinton — possibly foreshadowing a fight between the two for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, assuming Bush is re-elected.
Clinton, who backed the Iraqi invasion, refused to endorse anyone when asked yesterday.
She has consistently scored much higher approval ratings in polling than any of the nine announced candidates.
Dean said Gore brought his moral authority to his candidacy, but it also gives him sway with the Democratic "establishment," a group Dean had campaigned against with as much vigor as his attacks on Bush.
Donna Brazile, Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said Dean is getting a "tremendous boost" that allows him to reach out to blacks and southerners.
"Other candidates have to take a hard look in the mirror to determine whether they have enough fuel in the tank to go the distance," Brazile said. "Only three or four can go the distance. The other candidates should take the time over the holiday season to put together an exit strategy."
Should he win the Democratic nomination, Dean will be painted by Bush and Republicans as a northeastern liberal who presided over a tiny, lily-white state near the Canadian border.
Gore overwhelmingly won the African American vote in 2000 and his endorsement gives Dean instant credibility both among blacks and southerners, two key constituencies that have not embraced the Vermonter, branded by opponents as the "cappuccino and biscotti candidate."
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