DOVER, N.H. – Howard Dean (search) said Saturday he was surprised by the "under the table" campaigning he faced during the Iowa caucus (search) and said the state needs to prevent such negative attacks if it wants to keep the nation's leadoff presidential vote.
Dean said his rivals "had their folks really beating up on the people who went in, trying to get them to change their minds in caucus."
"I think Iowa is going to have to change the way it conducts its caucuses if it wants to continue to be first," he told reporters in an interview on his campaign bus in New Hampshire.
Democratic National Committee (search) rules prohibit any state from holding a nominating caucus before Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire's primary. Officials from other states have protested that the two state have such a disproportionate influence on the presidential election. But Iowa and New Hampshire are fiercely protective of their special status.
Dean came in a distant third in Iowa behind Sens. John Kerry (search) of Massachusetts and John Edwards (search) of North Carolina. Polls show Dean trailing Kerry in New Hampshire, but Dean told The Associated Press Saturday night that he is closing the gap.
"Whether we can close the whole thing by Tuesday, I don't know," Dean said in an interview with the AP on his campaign bus. "That's up to the voters, but we are going to take a real run at it because I think it can be done."
Dean said the campaign's calls to voters show that former supporters who abandoned him after the Iowa loss are coming back.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "I think it's going to be a very close race."
Dean has blamed his Iowa loss on negative attacks that he suffered as a one-time front-runner in the race. He said Saturday that he would not start attacking Kerry in an effort to bring him down.
But he did point out that he and Kerry had taken different positions on both wars against Iraq. Dean supported the invasion under the first President Bush while Kerry voted against it. Dean opposed the invasion of Iraq last year while Kerry voted for the resolution authorizing the U.S.-led war.
"Here is a gentleman who's running, who votes no in 1991 when there are troops in Kuwait and the oil fields are on fire, and then votes yes and there turns out not to be a threat," Dean said. "I would be deeply concerned about that kind of judgment in the White House. His voting record on Iraq is exactly the opposite of mine, and I think my position has proven to be right twice."
Asked Saturday for specifics about the negative attacks, Dean pointed to a book distributed by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' campaign that instructed supporters how to attack other candidates during the caucuses. For example, it told campaign captains in Iowa to describe Dean as an "elitist from Park Avenue in New York City."
"I never dreamed that would happen," Dean said. "And I don't think that's a healthy thing for democracy. It's enough to have it go on for weeks and weeks in the press, but when it goes on inside the caucus, I don't think that's good," he said.
Edwards, who has credited his strong second-place showing in Iowa to campaigning on a positive message, said he did not know about the book until this week. He said he took full responsibility for it and instructed his campaign never to let it happen again.
Dean came in a distant third in Iowa, while Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won the state. Dean said the negative tactics are "a real problem for Iowa."
"I mean, I like the Iowa caucuses a lot and I think they should be first, but they've got to have a process that's good for democracy," he said. "And the kind of stuff that's gone on — you know on the phone calls and all that stuff under the table — is not particularly good for democracy."
After Dean's remarks, his spokesman, Doug Thornell, clarified that Dean would protect Iowa's right to have the nation's first caucus.
"Governor Dean loves Iowa and when elected president, he will ensure that Iowa retains its status as first in the nation," Thornell said.
Meanwhile, Dean has cut back his television advertising in states with Feb. 3 contests to concentrate his spending on New Hampshire. He is pouring in about $500,000 through Tuesday's primary and his ads in New Mexico ended Wednesday. Commercials in South Carolina and Arizona will stop running this weekend.
Jay Carson, a Dean spokesman, said the campaign has not yet decided how many days it will be in the dark in New Mexico, Arizona and South Carolina.
"We're assessing that right now. We still have strong organizations in all of those places," he said. "But we're focusing on New Hampshire right now in terms of our advertising."