Democrat John Kerry (search) has asked former archrival Howard Dean (search) to bring his voice, fund-raising prowess and followers to the cause of beating President Bush, but the outspoken Dean also could bring the kind of controversy that contributed to the freefall of his own campaign.
Dean, the Democrat's darling of the Internet who raised a party record of more than $41 million and collected a sought-after list of e-mail addresses, is worth courting based on that number alone. The one-time candidate unveiled his grass-roots organization on Thursday with the goal of ousting Republicans, including Bush.
But Dean's comments already have drawn fire for Kerry.
On Tuesday, Dean suggested that Bush's decision to send troops to Iraq appears to have contributed to the Spanish train bombing that killed more than 200. Shortly after his comments in a conference call with reporters, the former Vermont governor issued a statement clarifying his remarks, saying there is no justification for terrorism and that he was simply repeating the connection made by an alleged al-Qaida spokesman who claimed responsibility.
Republicans accused Dean of spreading rumors and called on Kerry to repudiate the remarks. Kerry simply said he didn't share Dean's position.
"I think Kerry should be real careful with Howard Dean," said University of Vermont political scientist Frank Bryan, who has known Dean for 20 years. "Howard Dean is best when he's talking off the cuff often about his ideas and perspectives, but it got him in trouble in the campaign and it could get Kerry in trouble."
Dean's eagerness to go on the attack was part of the draw for the Kerry campaign. The one-time candidate can criticize the president in tougher terms than Kerry, who is trying to appear presidential and above the fray.
Kerry generally avoids directly comparing his decorated Vietnam War service with the president's lack of combat experience overseas, but Dean was quick to make the distinction in a conference call with reporters this week.
"I would vastly prefer to have someone who had actually spent time in combat running this country and standing up for our soldiers than I would a president of the United States who never served a day in combat," Dean said.
Kerry's deputy campaign manager, Steve Elmendorf, also said Dean is an enormous help politically because "he obviously put together a new and different and unique way of communicating with people. We want to learn from him and learn from his people what they did right."
Dean's comments frequently created controversy during the campaign, such as when he said the capture of Saddam Hussein didn't make America safer, cited the Confederate flag to talk about courting Southern white Democrats or discussed a "theory" that Bush was warned in advance about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Republicans have questioned whether Dean will be an asset. White House political strategist Karl Rove told conservative activists Wednesday that Kerry hurt himself by teaming up with Dean because Dean's criticism of the Iraq War is out of step with most Americans.
Nevertheless, Dean stands with the presumptive nominee.
"I will do everything I can to help John Kerry beat George W. Bush in 2004, to revitalize grass-roots democracy, and to move America in a better direction," Dean said in a speech Thursday in Seattle.
Dean is not the only candidate whose words have drawn criticism from rivals. Kerry's remarks also have opened him to complaints from Republicans, such as when he said world leaders would rather see him as president but refused to name them.
"No one's perfect in this process," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant who ran Al Gore's campaign in 2000. "Senator Kerry made some off-the-cuff remarks that got him in hot water and he didn't back down."
Brazile said if she were leading the Kerry campaign, her top assignment for Dean would be to get his help in stopping progressives from leaving the party to vote for independent Ralph Nader. Political observers say some voters attracted to Dean's antiestablishment campaign might be attracted to Nader, but Dean adviser Steve McMahon said Dean will get them back in the fold.
"This 6 percent that Nader has in the polls he should enjoy because it isn't going to last long," McMahon said.
Kerry also will look to Dean for help raising money. Elmendorf said all of Kerry's former Democratic rivals are helping to bring their followers to Kerry's campaign and he hopes Dean also will use his significant list of donors to help fund the campaign.
Dean spokesman Jay Carson said Dean will send messages to his supporters on Kerry's behalf, but he is opposed to turning their contact information over to others to use on their own. He said many on Dean's list are new to politics, signed up specifically in support of Dean and may bristle at having their addresses passed around.