NEWARK, Del. – Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman (search) warned Friday against replacing "one divisive leader with another divisive leader," a swipe at both President Bush and the front-runner for the Democratic Party's nomination, Howard Dean (search).
Voters in 2000 were almost evenly divided between Bush and the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Al Gore (search) and Lieberman. Bush eventually prevailed in one of the closest presidential elections in history.
Lieberman, a Connecticut senator struggling in the race to gain the 2004 nomination, on Friday added to his earlier criticism that Dean was taking Democrats backward by arguing that the former Vermont governor was a divisive force within the party.
"We're too divided," Lieberman said as he toured a technology plant in Delaware. "I don't want to replace one divisive leader with another divisive leader."
Dean, during a campaign stop in Iowa, faulted his Democratic rivals, particularly those in Congress, for what he argued was a move toward the political right.
"It's time to take the country back, the country of FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Harry Truman and Bill Clinton (search)," Dean said. "These Washington Democrats failed and backed away from the fight. We need new leadership in this country and we need new leadership in this party."
Dean's mention of Clinton was clearly intended to answer his critics.
Lieberman contended that Dean had criticized the former president's economic record in a domestic speech Thursday. Advisers for Wesley Clark (search) also used the Dean remark to lash out at the front-runner, although they acknowledged Friday they were not entirely clear of the affront. They called on Dean to explain whether he indeed wants to move the party's economic policies away from those of the Clinton administration.
Dean referred Thursday to a State of the Union address by the former president: "While Bill Clinton said that the era of big government is over, I think we have to enter a new era for the Democratic Party, not one where we join Republicans and aim simply to limit the damage they inflict on working families."
Dean has denied that he intended the remark as criticism of the former president, and the campaign said Friday that Dean believes Clinton had a "great record of success" and wants to build on it.
But Lieberman said Friday, "If you look at the language, it sure looks like he's being critical of the Clinton idea that the era of big government is over."
Clark's economic advisers said they were confused by Dean's remarks. "I'm curious what he means by that," said Mickey Kantor, Commerce secretary under Clinton. "If he's not trying to alter in a significant way the Clinton approach to the economy, which was so successful, why does he reference the Clinton era vs. some new era?"
Responding to the latest criticism, Dean spokesman Jay Carson said Friday that "Washington candidates know all about divisiveness. They get more desperate every day and they continue to distort the truth because they have almost nothing positive to say about anything."
Rival John Kerry (search) continued his criticism of Dean's foreign policy credentials Friday, saying his comments this week have "added immeasurably to the already significant doubts about his ability to be commander in chief." Kerry challenged Dean to a debate on national security.
Kerry said Republicans would have "a field day" with Dean's comment that America is no safer with Saddam Hussein in custody, calling the comment naive and irresponsible.
Dean's spokesman said Dean has been consistent on the Iraq war, adding that if positions on the war "were donors, John Kerry wouldn't have had to mortgage his house yesterday to support his campaign." Kerry is loaning his campaign $850,000 and is mortgaging his family home in Boston to provide future money to the campaign.