PEMBROKE, N.H. — Even as he called on rivals to mute their criticism, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took a swipe Monday at some moderate Democratic Party leaders, calling them the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party."
"One of the reasons I wish the others guys running for president would tone it down a little bit is that at the end, we're all going to have to pull together in order to beat George Bush," he told several hundred people at a packed town hall meeting.
And, he added, "even the Democratic Leadership Council, which is sort of the Republican part of the Democratic Party ... the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, we're going to need them too, we really are." The Democratic Leadership Council was founded in 1985 by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, among others, to remake the Democratic Party in a more centrist, competitive mold.
While Dean shares much of the group's political philosophy, conservative fiscal principles and progressive social ideals, he has been at odds with its leaders, who have questioned his ability to beat President Bush.
This year, DLC president Bruce Reed and chief executive Al From wrote a memo urging the Democratic presidential candidates to chart a moderate approach to beat Bush. From also has criticized what he views as Dean's appeal to anger in the Democratic base.
From has advised Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an adherent of the DLC approach, in his presidential bid, while Reed has worked with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark.
On Monday, From said Dean's remarks amounted to a rejection of Clinton, who served as the group's chair from 1990 to 1991, and who ran his 1992 presidential campaign on a centrist "New Democrat" platform drawn largely from the work of the organization. Clinton still participates in DLC events.
"Why is Howard Dean running away from Bill Clinton?" From asked in a statement. "That's no way to build on the progress of the most successful Democratic president of our time."
Dean's jab at the DLC came after his campaign scrambled last week to clarify that the former governor did not intend to criticize Clinton during an economic speech in New Hampshire. In that address, Dean noted that while Clinton said "the era of big government is over," Democrats need to create "a new social contract" with working people.
On Monday, he reiterated in a town hall meeting in Pembroke that he would appoint Clinton an envoy to the Middle East if he were elected president.
On Monday, "Gov. Dean was simply making a tongue-in-cheek remark about an organization closely aligned with other candidates in this race that [has] been one of the first and loudest critics of his campaign," said Dean spokesman Jay Carson.
Dean's comments came in response to a question from a man in Exeter about how Dean could persuade all Democrats to rally around his candidacy. "We're not going to win as Democrats unless we're all together, and that's the truth," Dean told him.
Dean also launched a new volley at Bush for not pushing Congress to renew unemployment benefits, which expired Monday for about 90,000 people. By January, he said, half a million people will lose their unemployment.
Earlier in the day, Dean reiterated his campaign's disavowal of an assertion by former NATO commander Clark that Dean had offered him a spot as a running mate before Clark launched his presidential bid.
"I think Wes Clark would make a fine running mate, but I did not ask him to be a running mate," Dean told reporters in Portsmouth, where he picked up the endorsement of a local chapter of the Communications Workers of America.
"He gave me some good advice, I gave him some advice on domestic policy areas," Dean said. "....I did not and have not offered anybody the vice presidency. I think that would be very presumptuous to do that, since not one vote has been cast in any primary and I think the voters get the final say of who the front runner is, frankly, not the press."