Howard Dean Gives Spirited Endorsement To John Kerry

Vermont upstart's support for former rival marks step forward for party unity.

Former Democratic Party front-runner Howard Dean endorsed the party’s nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Thursday at a rally at Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University. Amid spirited chants of "Kerry, Kerry, Kerry" led by Dean himself, the former Vermont governor pledged his support for Kerry, once his arch-rival on the campaign trail.

"Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America," Dean asked the eager crowd, "a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star from the battlefields of Vietnam?"

Dean added jabs at Bush's records on job creation, the environment and the budget before introducing Kerry as "the next president of the United States."

"Howard and I understand this election is not about us," Kerry said, alluding to the pair's previous differences. "It's not about a party. It's about our country. It's about you and your future."

"If this is what Governor Dean feels is best to bring the party together, that's fantastic," said Becca Doten, the Southern California Generation Dean organizer and a University of Southern California film production grad. "It feels right to offer a unified front to beat George Bush."

For Kerry, Thursday marked a fruitful return to the campaign trail. By lunchtime, the senator had already met with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of black newspaper leaders, and garnered the coveted Dean endorsement. Thursday also marked the final day of the "Come Together: $10 Million in 10 Days" Kerry fund-raising campaign.

The flurry of activity will wrap up Thursday night with an event for young professionals featuring rapper Q-Tip and the Democratic National Committee Unity Dinner featuring former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore. Most of Kerry's campaign-trail rivals will also be on hand; notable exceptions include Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who is still pursuing the candidacy, and former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who is unable to attend. The benefit is expected to raise more than $11 million.

Dean's pledge of support came after more than a month of speculation from Democrats, Republicans and Dean supporters alike. Some of those playfully dubbed the "Deaniacs" worried that a formal endorsement would force Dean to turn over his contact lists and delegates to the Kerry campaign, an idea which many supporters found disdainful (see "Howard Dean Supporters Head In New Direction"). Dean representatives had no comment on whether or not this would occur in the wake of Thursday's announcement.

Other supporters said they considered an endorsement from Dean an extension of his promise to support the Democratic candidate to the fullest. "I like the idea of all the Democrats coming together as a unified front, something we don't usually do very well," Southern California Generation Dean organizer Doten said. "This is for the best of the party and for the best of the election in November."

The day's activities capped off a busy stretch for Dean, who left the race on February 18. The former Vermont governor unveiled plans for a new venture, Democracy for America, last Thursday. The effort aims to channel the momentum from the now-defunct Dean for America presidential campaign into helping other Democratic candidates take back the White House and Congress.

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