Democratic Rivals Go After Howard Dean

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, November 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Democratic rivals are using Howard Dean (search) for target practice, taking their best shot at the frontrunner before it is too late, because if Dean wins the nomination, he is likely to clean house. With that in mind, some Clinton-era Democrats are setting up a new power base, complete with a boatload of soft money.

James Harding (search) is Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times. Mr. Harding, today's big question — is Howard Dean a threat to the leaders of the Democratic Party?

JAMES HARDING, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, John, of course the good people in Vermont will tell you that, no, he is their salvation. He is the one who's given Democrats a voice after a bad bout of laryngitis from the people at the top of the Democratic Party here in Washington.

But I think clearly in a few ways he really is an unsettling prospect for them. He is unsettling because they really fear that Bush will annihilate him next year and then leave the Democrats to another four years of what some now speaking in Congress call “impotence on the Hill.”

He is worrying because he will put an end to what they fear is the Clinton-era argument. The argument that the place for Democrats is in the center of the political spectrum. The Democratic leadership counsels you. And I think clearly there are some people, one of them is obviously Terry McAuliffe (search) who has reason to be worried. There is some bad blood between those two and it is a question of whether or not if Dean wins the nomination, he will make some changes to the top of the party.

GIBSON: Well, that is a question. Terry McAuliffe, a frequent guest on this program and always cordial, nonetheless, he evidently is perceived, at least, by Dean to not be a Dean supporter and Dean — you put it nicely... bad blood. If Dean is the nominee, does he get to fire Terry McAuliffe on day two?

HARDING: I think this is a piece of delicious speculation and delicious because it is completely unprovable, in the sense that it is up to Dean to say he will pull the party together and lead from the front.

And so he is in no position to start talking about any changes he might want to make in the party. And clearly, you know, McAuliffe's job is to make sure the Democrats win the White House and he doesn't want to be taking pot shots at Democratic candidates.

So there is no way we can prove this. All we can say is that Dean, according to people close to McAuliffe, perhaps was not his first choice. And from Dean's perspective, he's had the sense that Washington has been against him from the outset, that much in the same way that George W. Bush did nearly four years ago, he feels as though he is the outsider campaigning as much against Washington as against his rival.

GIBSON: What about this business of Clinton Democrats setting up a rival power base, you know, to rival Dean as we put it earlier, with a boatload of soft money. What is going on?

HARDING: Well, America coming together is not quite a bunch of Clinton Democrats doing exactly that. There is a view that politics, particularly among liberals, among progressives that politics has been transformed by the amounts of money that George W. Bush has brought into it. And they need to harness as much as possible to get him out of office. It's intended to get out the vote. It's independent from the Democratic Party, and there are very strict laws which require it to be independent.

But clearly, the combination of what America Coming Together is doing, what ACT is doing, backed by people like George Soros, and what Dean is trying to do via the Internet in terms of raising large sums, is intended to combat the enormous war chest that Bush-Cheney will amass.

GIBSON: Now if Soros is involved with his billions, are they going to be able to raise the kind of money to challenge George Bush? Let's say Dean is the nominee — as directly, dollar for dollar?

HARDING: They're going to get closer than many people expected a year ago. That is the extraordinary thing is that there was a perception there was going to be an extraordinary imbalance between what the Republicans could muster and what the Democrats could muster. And in terms of hard money contributions so far, that remains the case. Bush is way in the lead, as are the Republicans on the Hill, by comparison with what the Democrats can do.

But the combination of ACT raising some money to fight on the issues, to get out the vote, as well as Dean raising really large sums and going outside of the federal system for fundraising in order to try and combat Bush means that there is going to be something closer to equilibrium. Bush will still be in the lead but he won't have, you know, furlongs and furlongs ahead of Dean.

GIBSON: James Harding, Washington Bureau Chief of the Financial Times. Mr. Harding, thanks.

HARDING: Thanks.

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