Howard Dean will get one of the most coveted endorsements of the primary campaign on Tuesday when former vice president Al Gore tells a Harlem breakfast that he is backing Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Former Vermont governor Dean, a front-runner who started as a long shot, has relied on the Internet and political newcomers while struggling to win establishment support. Gore's endorsement, first reported by MSNBC and confirmed by a Democrat familiar with conversations between the two men, is a stamp of approval and a strong signal to party elders.
The announcement is sure to provide another huge burst of momentum to a Dean campaign that leads in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two contests on the nomination calendar next January. Dean also has raised more money than any of his rivals.
"This is a tremendous, tremendous boost to the Dean candidacy," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. "It helps put Howard Dean on the national stage."
Gore and Dean hold similar, critical views of the war in Iraq. Gore and his wife, Tipper, have also championed gay rights and services for the mentally ill. Dean has a strong record in both areas.
All nine Democratic candidates wanted the backing of the party's 2000 nominee. Gore's decision posed a particular slight to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was his running mate. Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera said Gore did not tell Lieberman in advance.
"I have a lot of respect for Al Gore Ñ that is why I kept my promise not to run if he did," Lieberman said in a pointed statement.
The campaign of retired general Wesley Clark issued a statement headlined "Clark wins Gore staff primary," with a list of more than 20 former Gore aides now working for Clark. One of them, communications director Matt Bennett, said Gore's decision is not a setback for his candidate. "I don't think Clark supporters are going to be moved by what Al Gore decided to do."
Gephardt said in a statement that he had "fought side-by-side with Al Gore" to pass Clinton-era programs, while "Dean was on the wrong side." Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said the 2004 election "is about the future, not about the past."
Dean allies had been nudging Gore for months to consider backing him. One was actor-director Rob Reiner, who hosted a roast for Dean Monday night in New York. The two had worked for years on children's issues, and he was one of the earliest big names to sign on.
Reaction of candidates to former Vice President Al Gore's decision to endorse Howard Dean:
"I respect Al Gore. I worked with him in the Senate, and I endorsed him early in his hard fought campaign for the presidency four years ago. But, this election is about the future, not about the past. I have the experience and the vision to reverse George Bush's radical agenda and put America back on track on my first day in office. This election will be decided by voters, across the country, beginning with voters in Iowa." - Sen. John Kerry
"I was proud to have been chosen by Al Gore in 2000 to be a heartbeat away from the presidency - and am determined to fight for what's right, win this nomination, and defeat George W. Bush next year. I have a lot of respect for Al Gore - that is why I kept my promise not to run if he did. Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward." - Sen. Joe Lieberman
"Dick Gephardt fought side-by-side with Al Gore to pass the Clinton economic plan, pass the assault weapons ban and defend against Republican attacks on Medicare and affirmative action. On each of these issues, Howard Dean was on the wrong side." - Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith
ÒNo kidding Ñ I think itÕs wonderful.Ó -- Gen. Wesley Clark