Former Vice President Al Gore will endorse former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the party’s 2004 presidential nomination, Democratic sources said Monday.
The endorsement could well cement Dean’s status as the leading Democratic candidate heading into the kickoff contests now just weeks away in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Dean’s campaign declined comment. But a source close to the former vice president said Gore had always intended to endorse a candidate “when he felt comfortable doing so,” and that he believed this was “a moment of impact.”
This source said that Gore # the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2000 # thinks a protracted primary campaign would serve only to help President Bush.
Another source said the endorsement would occur at 8 a.m. Tuesday in New York City’s Harlem # where former President Clinton maintains his office # and that Gore and Dean would then travel together to Iowa.
Dean would then head to New Hampshire for the crucial Democratic debate later Tuesday.
The announcement will come nearly three years to the date after Gore, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in the disputed 2000 election, conceded defeat.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000 and a current presidential hopeful, said he would continue to “to fight for what’s right, win this nomination, and defeat George W. Bush next year.”
“I have a lot of respect for Al Gore # that is why I kept my promise not to run if he did,” Lieberman said.
“Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward,” Lieberman said in a written statement.
A source close to Lieberman said Gore, who was Clinton’s vice president, did not call Lieberman to inform him of the decision.
Widening the gap
With the Dean campaign gaining momentum, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows Dean widening his front-runner status among the eight other Democratic candidates.
The poll showed that 25 percent of registered Democrats support Dean as their nominee, with retired Gen. Wesley Clark in second with 17 percent.
In an interview before the news broke on CNN’s “Inside Politics,” Dean played down his front-runner status.
“The pundits in Washington have been talking about me as the front-runner for a long time,” Dean said.
“Well, guess what, the people of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Arizona and so forth get to decide who the front-runner is. So, it’s nice talk but I’m not buying it.”
Erik Smith, a campaign press secretary for Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, sounded as if the Gephardt team was caught off-guard by the news, as were Dean’s other rivals.
Dean and Gephardt are the top two candidates in Iowa.
“Dick Gephardt fought side-by-side with Al Gore to pass the Clinton economic plan, pass the assault weapons ban and defend against Republican attacks on Medicare and affirmative action. On each of these issues, Howard Dean was on the wrong side,” Smith said.
Saying he respected Gore and fought for his campaign four years ago, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said, “This election is about the future, not about the past.”
“This election will be decided by voters, across the country, beginning with voters in Iowa,” he said.
Paul Begala, a political adviser to President Clinton and now a host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” called the endorsement an “enormous boost” that would clearly give Dean momentum going into Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It’s very good for him,” Begala said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it locks anything up, though, because people want to make up their own minds.”