FORT DODGE, Iowa – Democrats locked in a tight presidential battle are going negative as decision day fast approaches in Iowa and New Hampshire, with Dick Gephardt (search) suggesting that Howard Dean (search) is a fake and Dean accusing Wesley Clark (search) of being a closet Republican.
Polls show the races in both Iowa and New Hampshire tightening significantly. With his lead shrinking in both states, Dean is striking out at his opponents and reminding voters of his stand against the Iraq war.
"I got my start in this race by standing up to George Bush when he supported a war that 70 percent of the people agreed with him on because he didn't tell the truth about how he got there," the former Vermont governor said Wednesday in Nashua, N.H.
"I'm going to finish this campaign in New Hampshire and we are going to win by continuing to remind people that when it was important to stand up to George Bush, only one candidate in this race dared to do it."
The Dean campaign put out word Wednesday evening that the Democratic field is dropping to eight Thursday with former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (search) of Illinois dropping out of the race and endorsing Dean.
Gephardt, who has staked his candidacy on an Iowa victory, launched a new line of assault against Dean in the state where he and Sens. John Kerry (search) of Massachusetts and John Edwards (search) of North Carolina are the leading challengers to Dean in Monday's Iowa caucuses.
"To me, there is no room for the cynical politics of manufactured anger and false conviction," said Gephardt, a Missouri congressman. "I believe in standing for something."
Dean said Gephardt's accusations are a "sad commentary" on the state of his campaign.
"Let's not kid ourselves about this, these guys are looking at the end of their careers if I win and they're going to do anything they can to stop me," Dean told Iowa Public Television on Wednesday after campaigning in New Hampshire.
Dean singled out Clark, a retired Army general who is rising in the New Hampshire polls, for additional criticism of not being loyal to the Democratic Party. He noted that Clark has said he voted for Richard Nixon (search) and Ronald Reagan and has helped raise money for Republicans.
"I do not think somebody ought to run in the Democratic primary and then make the general election the Republican primary between two Republicans," Dean said to applause from the crowd.
Clark told reporters after a national security speech in New Hampshire, "I'm a Democrat."
A spokesman, Bill Buck, said Dean's comment "smacks of old-time negative politics" that will turn off voters. "If Howard Dean wonders why his poll numbers are dropping in New Hampshire, he should look in the mirror," Buck said.
In his attack on Dean, Gephardt was trying to appeal to blue-collar workers frightened about trade deals and lost jobs.
"Howard Dean travels the country and yells and pounds the podium against NAFTA (search), against the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney White House, and against insider corporate deals," he said. "This is the same Howard Dean who said he strongly supported NAFTA, who won't release his records as governor, and who wanted Vermont to 'overtake Bermuda' as a tax haven for companies like Enron."
He may air an ad echoing the speech's themes, advisers said. Edwards, meanwhile, is closing the campaign with a positive ad, the more traditional approach. "I think this is about something much bigger than these petty snipings that are going on," Edwards says in the spot.