NASHUA, N.H. – Democrat Howard Dean (search), contending that he's closing the gap on front-runner John Kerry (search), questioned his rivals Washington experience and complained about political dirty tricks in the final hours before New Hampshire's primary.
Trailing Kerry in most polls one day before the nation's first primary, Dean focused on the arguments that drove his campaign last year — his effort to portray himself as the Washington outsider to his inside-the-Beltway rivals and his opposition to the Iraq war.
He also raised the specter of 11th-hour dirty tricks by his rivals.
The former Vermont governor sought to paint Kerry and fellow Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Joe Lieberman (search ) of Connecticut as Washington insiders.
"I'm not here to pick a fight with Senator Kerry or Senator Edwards or Senator Lieberman," Dean said at an afternoon rally at the University of New Hampshire. "All I'm saying is Washington is a place where sitting on a committee is considered to be experience."
Dean has frequently sought to distinguish himself from his rivals based on their 2002 votes for the congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. On Monday, he continued to criticize Kerry for voting for the resolution but siding with opponents who favored sanctions over military force to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.
"Foreign policy experience depends on patience and judgment," Dean said. "I question Senator Kerry's judgment."
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter responded, "Howard Dean wouldn't know good judgment on foreign policy if he fell over it."
"Remember, this is the same man who has said that the nation was not safer with the capture of Saddam Hussein, said we shouldn't take sides in the Middle East, and that Usama bin Laden should get a jury trial," she said.
Dean said he has every intention of winning the primary and the race is "very close."
"I'm not sure it's a dead heat, but it's close and it's closing very fast," he said.
Dean is looking for a win in New Hampshire to revitalize his candidacy, hit hard by his distant third-place finish in Iowa and the fallout from his post-caucus bellowing speech. Once the front-runner, in large part because of the $40 million he raised, Dean acknowledged in a CNN interview that he is spending down his campaign funds.
"I think the money situation's tough for everybody," Dean said. "You know, we tried to do everything we could in these two states to win. But you know, we have a huge base of support, so we're going to be able to keep going."
At one campaign appearance, a questioner who identified himself as an undecided voter asked Dean how he would fend off nasty tricks from Republicans if he is nominated.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing a few of those tricks in the Democratic primary and we are getting better at getting used to that sort of thing," Dean said.
Dean did not specify any underhanded tactics. His spokesman, Jay Carson, said Dean supporters are getting phone calls criticizing Dean for, among other things, claiming to be a Christian when his wife and children are Jewish. Also, he said they are getting faxes and e-mails that are designed to look like they are from the Dean campaign but distort his record.
For example, Carson said, an e-mail that proposes to be from campaign manager Joe Trippi asks for interns, but then says because of tight sleeping headquarters, homosexuals are not accepted.
Frances Gehling, a Dean volunteer, said she received a phone call January 16 from a person who identified herself as a Londonderry, N.H., resident who worked for the local Kerry campaign. After Gehling said she supported Dean, the caller asked if it bothered Gehling "that Dean waffles on the issues."
The caller then asked Gehling about Dean's statement that "we will learn how to talk about Jesus" when he campaigns in the South. "She asked how someone who is married to a Jew and raising Jewish children can have Christian values," Gehring said when contacted by The Associated Press.
Jerry Sorlucco, a zone captain for the Dean campaign in Littleton, N.H., said he received two odd calls last week. One was an automated call from an unidentified source who asked several questions about why he supported Dean in the presidential primary.
"In terms of the dirty tricks, I think we are seeing some of those in the primaries," Dean said. "You get used to it. It's not nice, it's not good for the democracy, but people do them and all you can do is try to get the press to focus on them because there's nothing better than shining a spotlight on somebody who's doing something wrong."
Carson said the Kerry campaign was making some of the negative calls in Iowa, but he was unsure who was behind them in New Hampshire.
Cutter denied that the Kerry campaign was involved.
"These are the same rumors that Howard Dean and his campaign spread before Iowa," she said. "It didn't work for them then and it's not going to work for them now."
The Dean campaign also said Dean was the victim of misinformation in Michigan, where a poll released Monday shows Dean losing his lead to Kerry in the Feb. 7 caucus. Daren Berringer, director of Dean's Michigan campaign, said the Kerry campaign is distributing a flier that "distorts and outright lies" about Dean's record on the environment, energy, gun control, the death penalty and higher education.
Cutter said the fliers were distributed by volunteers and once the Kerry campaign officials found out, they stopped it.