Former Rivals Rally Around Kerry

Dick Gephardt (search) urges campaign contributors to donate to John Kerry. John Edwards (search) pledges to do "everything within my power" to help his one-time rival win the White House. Bob Graham campaigns by his side in Florida.

One by one, former contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are offering Kerry their time, their toil and even their precious lists of campaign donors in an early show of unity for a man and a party intent on toppling President Bush in November.

"John has a great plan to bring back jobs and prosperity, provide affordable health care for all, move our economy forward into the 21st century, and make America safer and stronger in the world," retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search) wrote Tuesday in a fund-raising appeal e-mailed to thousands of Kerry's supporters.

Kerry's aides say the willingness of his former rivals to help is a manifestation of party unity heading into the general election campaign.

"It typically takes weeks and months to get all the candidates back," said Michael Meehan, a senior campaign strategist. "Sometimes you don't get it back before the convention."

Early unity has been less than automatic over the past quarter-century for Democrats.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy waged a convention floor fight with President Carter over the party platform in 1980. Gary Hart offered a grudging acknowledgment of Walter F. Mondale's narrow victory in 1984. Jesse Jackson was reluctant to yield to Michael Dukakis even at the convention in 1988.

More recently, Bill Bradley waited for months after losing the nomination to Al Gore in 2000 before offering a mid-July endorsement.

Democrats lost each of those elections.

While Democrats inside and outside the Kerry campaign point to the help they're receiving as evidence of unprecedented party unity, other factors may be involved.

Edwards, Gephardt, Graham and Clark all have been mentioned as potential vice presidential running mates, a decision that is Kerry's alone to make.

This year's show of unity is unfolding more quickly, even if some of Kerry's former rivals are taking longer than others to take part.

Howard Dean, the one-time front-runner whose candidacy faded when the primaries began, has neither endorsed the Massachusetts senator nor agreed to make available the list of Web supporters who helped him raise $41 million.

"We've had some very good initial meetings with the Dean camp," said Lou Susman, Kerry's national finance chairman. The former Vermont governor and Kerry arranged to meet Wednesday in Washington.

Several officials familiar with the discussions say Dean is prepared to endorse Kerry soon, campaign for him and ask his own campaign contributors to donate to the Massachusetts senator. His actions depend on the course of the conversation between the two men, these sources added, saying it's unlikely Dean would be willing to turn over his donor list.

Edwards, who dropped out last week with a pledge to "do everything in my power" to elect Kerry, is scheduled to meet with him on Thursday. He'll also usher the top fund-raisers of his campaign into a meeting with Susman and others who raise money for Kerry.

"We've already been working with their key fund-raisers. And they've been very cooperative," said Susman.

Gephardt, who dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the kickoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, campaigned strenuously for Kerry in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. All are states with large numbers of union voters who formed the core of Gephardt's support over the years.

In addition, Susman said Gephardt "has been tremendous," making fund-raising calls on Kerry's behalf, and making available his list of campaign donors.

Clark, who quit the race in mid-February, campaigned for Kerry in Georgia and made two recent appearances in Kansas at the request of the senator's campaign, according to Nancy Parrish.

Parrish, who was a vice chairman in the retired general's campaign, said Clark will likely make an appearance for Kerry next week in Ohio. "I talk to them every day," she said of Kerry's staff. "We're going to try to help in any and every way we can."