Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean says he knows he's the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination "because I keep picking buckshot out of my rear end all the time."
He referred to the relentless sniping by his eight rivals who presume he is the man to beat.
Personally, I have never seen so much antagonism directed at a candidate by other members of the same party. It seems to me his competitors would do better to toot their own horns instead of tearing down a colleague.
If they keep stomping on Dean, where will they be if he just happens to win the No. 1 spot on the ticket? Surely their words will come back to haunt them if they don't cop the nomination themselves. President Bush and his chief political guru will be laughing all the way to the polls. They already have enough fodder now for their campaign stops for the next 10 months.
I'm not saying the other eight candidates should give up their bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. But some caution is advised.
The old pros would do better to accent their own solutions to the nation's problems, and there are plenty.
For example, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has offered a universal health care plan and has spotlighted the fact that trade globalization has sent U.S. jobs fleeing overseas.
But in the heat of the battle, most of the Democratic wannabes are busy hanging the "can't win against Bush" label on Dean and highlighting his perceived political gaffes.
Dean has staked out a strong position against the invasion of Iraq. The same is true of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the only member of Congress among the pack who voted against giving Bush authority to go to war.
The other Democratic congressional presidential contenders voted for the war, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts; Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina.
Oddly, Kerry made a name for himself protesting the Vietnam War back in the 1970s.
Then there is retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who is all over the place on the war issue. He has said he probably would have voted to authorize the war, but he also has said it was an "unnecessary war" and he has rejected the Bush doctrine of preventive war.
Two others seeking to top the ticket are former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton of New York.
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Dean, fed up with the personal pummeling, has taken Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to task for not stepping in and urging other Democrats to tone down their attacks.
Dean told reporters last month in Ames, Iowa, "If we had strong leadership in the Democratic Party, they would be calling those other candidates and saying, 'Hey look, somebody's going to have to win.' "
But a day later Dean telephoned McAuliffe, apparently to apologize or explain his remarks.
Lieberman, infected with the presidential bug when he ran for vice president in 2000, is not about to let up. He ridiculed Dean for his complaints about McAuliffe and derided his lack of "international experience."
Some of the challengers have attacked Dean for scoffing at Bush's statement that the United States is safer now because Saddam Hussein has been captured.
Saying anyone would be better than Bush, Dean has promised to support whoever wins the nomination.
But he adds: "You can't beat George Bush if you behave like the Democrats are behaving."
Kerry said that Dean embodied an "enormous contradiction" in his approach to government secrecy.
He referred to Dean's criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney's refusal to name his energy advisers and to Dean's appointment of his own secret energy task force when he was governor of Vermont.
Dean's reply: "Any comparison between my successful bipartisan efforts to solve an energy crisis in Vermont and Dick Cheney's donor rewards program designed as a national energy policy is laughable."
All of this is, of course, red meat for Bush political strategists. The New York Times quoted one Bush adviser as saying: "Dr. Dean's rivals are doing a great job for us" because of their attacks on him.
Ignoring the war in the campaign won't be easy for Bush if the Iraqi resistance continues to takes the lives of two or three Americans a day. But he and his cohorts are having a field day watching the Democrats scrap for the job of running against him.
Dean's rivals seem to have forgotten the maxim "divide and conquer." They should be guided by the maxim: "United we stand. Divided we fall."