Dean bids to seduce Democrats with Bush broadside

Nine contenders battle for party nomination while switched-on voters name their chosen candidates in an online poll
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The Independent US

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor vying to become the Democratic candidate for president, launched a spirited attack on George Bush yesterday, accusing him of misleading the country over the war in Iraq and squandering America's international credibility. He said the world was a less safe place now than before Mr Bush took office.

Mr Dean, the most outspoken of the nine Democrats seeking their party's nomination, said that scepticism over the war to oust Saddam Hussein did not equate with a lack of patriotism. Rather, he said, the detail of Mr Bush's foreign policy and the bullish manner in which it had been conducted were wrong.

He said: "I do not accept that a candidate's national security credentials should be considered suspect for opposing the war in Iraq ... Some in the Democratic Party claim that a candidate who questioned the war cannot lead the party in the great national debate that lies ahead. I would remind them that during the Cuban missile crisis, President J F Kennedy took on the hawks among the joint chiefs of staff as well as the 'me too-ers' in Congress. The President ... used toughness, patience and diplomacy. The missiles came out of Cuba and war was averted."

Mr Dean's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington was well received. But Mr Dean, who formally announced his run for president earlier this week, faces a much tougher task convincing his party's supporters - not to mention the country at large - that he is the man to replace the person of whom he is being so critical.

In many respects, even at this early stage, he has achieved more than many observers expected and he is forecast to perform strongly in an online poll of Democratic supporters, the results of which are due to be released later today.

By adopting the position of the candidate most openly critical of the White House, he has collected the support of many on the left of his party and, in terms of media coverage at least, he has outstripped some of his more cautious colleagues. He has actively portrayed himself as someone who offers a real alternative and has criticised some of his fellow Democrats for being nothing more than "Bush-lite".

The veteran Washington journalist Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors, which was inspired by the 1992 presidential race, wrote in Time magazine: "Dean has unlocked a fairly new and vibrant Democratic constituency that transcends his left-wing peacenik stereotype. It is young, middle class, white and wired."

Another long-time observer of presidential politics, David Corn, political editor of the leftish Nation magazine, said Mr Dean enjoyed presenting himself as the man who stood out from the crowd. "Dean takes pleasure in being an odd duck - ardently pro-choice, opposed to new, federal gun control, in favour of expanding the social safety net and being fiscally conservative," he said.

Mr Dean might fancy himself as the John McCain of the Democratic Party and be aiming to follow in the footsteps of the straight-talking Republican senator who gave Mr Bush a run for his money in the battle for the Republican nomination in 2000. But most observers believe Mr Dean will struggle to gain support from those other than his already loyal supporters, as Mr McCain was able to do.

Not only does he suffer from being portrayed as a "liberal oddball" by the conservative US media, which dominates in the country's heartlands where he needs to win, his background as a former governor of Vermont does not give him the projection or profile that many of his other candidates, such as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, have from their senior positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This could be important when his ability to raise money for his campaign becomes a factor.

Mr Dean also suffers from not being left-wing enough for some of those who might have backed him. While his fellow Vermonters, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, have named one of their famous Ben and Jerry's ice creams in his honour - Maple Powered Howard - Mr Cohen does not think Mr Dean is radical enough.

Instead, he is supporting the left-wing Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.