Iowa Campaigns Heat Up for Home Stretch

Flanked by his two highest-profile backers, Howard Dean (search) on Saturday launched another assault on President Bush, asserting that he "doesn't understand ordinary Americans."

Dean hastily revamped his schedule to make a joint appearance with former Vice President Al Gore (search) and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (search).

"This is an extraordinary moment for me," Dean said in a college chapel filled to overflowing.

Both Harkin and Gore said they endorsed Dean because he has energized the Democratic Party and brought legions of new people into politics.

"He has found a way to inspire enthusiasm at the grass-roots level and bring new people to the party and that's what we need," Gore said.

Harkin said his endorsement would not be in name only, pledging to work hard for Dean every day leading up to the Iowa caucuses a week from Monday.

"I have basically canceled everything I was scheduled to do for the next nine days," Harkin said.

Dean responded with a spirited assault on Bush, leaving his Democratic rivals relatively untouched.

"This president is destroying the middle class of America," he said.

Dean also made a campaign stop in neighboring Illinois, promising cheering supports at the state convention of the American Federation of state, County and Municipal Employees in Springfield that he will give Bush "a one-way ticket back to Crawford."

Earlier Saturday, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search) visited vote-rich eastern Iowa with Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., claiming his campaign is designed to "offer America hope."

Targeting Dean, Kerry urged activists to focus on more than the emotions Dean is stirring.

"We need to offer not just anger, but answers," said Kerry. "We need to offer not just slogans, but solutions."

Kerry had a series of appearances with Kennedy, hoping to rally supporters before the caucuses.

Polls have shown Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) bunched tightly together atop the field of candidates for Iowa's caucuses, with Kerry generally running third.

Kennedy said he's known Kerry since 1971.

"I don't come to Iowa to talk about someone I don't know," Kennedy said.

More than 500 people jammed a Davenport meeting hall Saturday morning to cheer Kerry and Kennedy, who described Kerry as being "full of steel and determination," and said that makes him the most credible Democrat.

"Those are the qualities that I want in my Democratic nominee," Kennedy said.

Kerry seeks to use his history as a decorated war veteran to make his case that he's the strongest candidate to oppose President Bush during a time of war.

"If he wants to make national security a central issue of this campaign, I have for him only three words he understands: Bring it on," Kerry said.

Kerry and Kennedy were part of a hectic political day in Iowa.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was headed to the state to push a plan he said would lift 10 million Americans out of poverty.

"I believe that our country has a moral responsibility to ensure that Americans who are working hard and playing by the rules" can enjoy a middle class lifestyle, Edwards said in unveiling his plan.

It would help 80,000 people in Iowa by increasing the earned income tax credit, reducing the marriage tax penalty for the working poor and increasing the refundable childcare credit by up to $450, campaign staffers said.

They didn't put a price tag on the plan, but Edwards said his history of growing up in the rural south has taught him the importance of dealing with rural poverty.

For his part, Gephardt was campaigning through the eastern part of the state defending his call to repeal all of Bush's tax cut to pay for his health care expansion proposal.

He has come under fire from rivals, such as Kerry, for pushing to repeal even portions of the tax cut that helps middle-class families.

Gephardt stopped at the rural Waverly farm of Mary and Gene Schrandt, a couple he said is struggling with enormous health care costs.

Gephardt said the Schrandts received only $375 under Bush' tax cut. By comparison, his health care plan would give the Schrandts $1,129 a year, Gephardt said.

"My health care plan will put more money on the kitchen table of middle-class families than George Bush's failed tax cut," Gephardt said. "I also guarantee every family access to quality health care."

Kerry said he would scour the tax code to wipe out benefits for the wealthiest Americans, but would continue to keep the middle-class tax cuts in place.