Kerry calls Dean unfit to be commander in chief

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(Host) Five days before the first debate featuring all of the Democratic presidential candidates, the campaign of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has launched an attack on the capabilities of Howard Dean.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Several months ago, Senator Kerry had a commanding lead over Howard Dean among likely voters in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. But that lead started to shrink as Dean highlighted his opposition to the war in Iraq. At the same time, Dean was quick to point out that although Kerry expressed concern about the war effort on the campaign trail, the senator voted for the resolution supporting military action.

Now the Kerry campaign is striking back. Campaign spokesperson Chris Lehane says Dean’s recent comments about the U.S. military indicate that Dean is not fit to be president. Dean was quoted by Time magazine as saying that the United States needs to be planning for a time when it’s not the world’s greatest superpower. Said Dean, “We have to take a different approach to diplomacy. We won’t always have the strongest military.” Kerry spokesperson Lehane says that comment calls Dean’s candidacy into question:

(Lehane) “No modern presidential candidate in American history – not JFK, not FDR, not Bill Clinton, none of them – have ever suggested that America would have anything but the strongest military in the world. And for Howard Dean to state his belief that the United States won’t always have the strongest military in the world raises serious questions about whether he has the capacity to serve as a commander in chief.”

(Kinzel) Lehane’s says his comments have nothing to do with the fact that Kerry and Dean are now neck and neck in New Hampshire:

(Lehane) “Our response was based on one thing and one thing only: our great concern about national security issues. This is a very, very serious issue that he has raised and it deserves to be questioned and it deserves to be pointed out.”

(Kinzel) Dean was traveling to California and was unavailable for comment, and no one from his campaign was available for an interview. But in press releases his campaign director Joe Trippi said the accusations from the Kerry camp were absurd: “Howard Dean will never tolerate an erosion of American military power nor has he ever said such a thing. The war on terrorism will not be won by relying solely on military supremacy.”

(Kinzel) Trippi says Kerry has developed “a disturbing pattern” of voting one way in the Senate and then telling voters in Iowa that he actually opposes the issue that he voted for. Trippi cited the war in Iraq, the president’s tax cut and the No Child Left Behind education bill as examples of this pattern.

All nine of the Democratic presidential candidates will meet in their first debate this Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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