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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Dean Joins Hands With Former Archfoe Kerry

March 11, 2004|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — At one time, he disparaged John F. Kerry as "a handmaiden of special interests" who had no chance of beating President Bush.

But it was all smiles Wednesday when Howard Dean -- the onetime favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination whom Kerry surpassed once voting began -- met with the Massachusetts senator at a Washington office building.

More than 50 Kerry aides lined the elevator lobby to welcome Dean, applauding as the former Vermont governor arrived.

Kerry embraced the man who at one point had been his fiercest critic, and then they clasped hands and raised them in the air for the cameras.

Kerry emerged as the presumed Democratic presidential nominee this month, but Dean did not officially endorse him Wednesday. A Democratic source who asked not to be named said Dean was expected to announce his support by the end of the month.

The two men met for more than an hour at Kerry's presidential campaign headquarters. Dean later released a statement saying, "During the campaign we often focused on what divided us, but the truth is we have much more in common, beginning with our fervent desire to send George Bush back to Crawford, Texas, in November."

The tenor was remarkably different than just a month ago, when Dean denounced Kerry as a Washington insider who was little different than Bush. At one campaign stop in Wisconsin, Dean mistakenly made a reference to "President Kerry," and corrected himself in a withering tone.

" 'President Kerry' -- please, spare us," he said.

The Bush campaign sought to resurrect the former governor's criticisms, releasing a list of some of Dean's most belittling statements about Kerry.

But aides to both men said there had been an authentic thawing between the former rivals. Since Dean withdrew from the race Feb. 18, they have spoken more than half a dozen times, said Kerry spokesman David Wade.

A Dean aide said the Kerry camp had "shown a great deal of respect for the [former] governor and the amazing organization that he's built."

Kerry has also assimilated some of Dean's rhetoric into his stump speech. Lately, he's been telling audiences the Democrats can beat Bush by getting 2 million people to donate $100 each -- an idea the Dean campaign first raised.

On Wednesday, Kerry adopted Dean's argument that Bush's policies had amounted to a tax increase on the middle class -- not a tax cut -- because of their effect on local governments.

"In 32 states, state and local property taxes have gone up," Kerry said in a satellite address to the executive council of the AFL-CIO.

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