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Inside Politics

Dean camp condemns bin Laden ad

Commercial attacks candidate's national security credentials

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A group called "Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values" aired the ad in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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CNN's Dan Lothian reports on the ad attacking Dean's national security credentials.
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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean's campaign called on rivals Wednesday to disavow a television ad that uses an image of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to attack the former Vermont governor's national security credentials.

A group calling itself "Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values" aired the ad in the early Democratic battlegrounds of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy," an announcer intones over a magazine cover featuring bin Laden's visage. "It's time for Democrats to think about that, and think about it now."

Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, called the ad "the kind of fearmongering attack we've come to expect from Republicans," one that "panders to the worst in voters."

He called on Dean's rivals to condemn the ad and demand it be pulled off the air.

"This type of ad represents everything that is wrong with our political process today -- polluting our airwaves with smears on other candidates that have nothing to do with legitimate policy differences," Trippi wrote in a letter to his counterparts in other campaigns.

"Ads like this are the reason that less than half of the voting population in America bothers to go to the polls."

The group was founded in November as a nonprofit committee known as a "527" -- named for the section of the tax code that limits its requirement to disclose the source of its funding.

Its leadership includes two people with ties to Dean's Democratic rivals -- David Jones, a former aide to Rep. Dick Gephardt, and Robert Gibbs, a former spokesman for Sen. John Kerry's campaign.

Jones issued a statement Wednesday saying the ad was meant to raise the issue of Dean's "national security and foreign policy experience."

"That is the ad's intention and that is what it does," he said.

In a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Gephardt denied any knowledge of the ad and called on the group to disclose its donors.

"I wish they weren't running the ads," he said. "I'm sorry they're doing this, but there's nothing I can do about it. But I would call on them and any other 527s to reveal their donors in a timely manner."

But a spokesman for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who has hammered Dean's opposition to the war since the weekend capture of fugitive Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, echoed its criticism while denouncing its tone.

"We agree with Joe Trippi that this ad is produced and presented in a way that is over the top," said Brian Hardwick, Lieberman's deputy campaign director.

"But we also agree that it's exactly the kind of ad that Republicans would run. And that's precisely the problem. Simply put: The Democratic nominee will not win in 2004 if he appears weak on defense."

In August on "Larry King Live," Dean deflected criticism of his opposition to the war. "I think it's great that Saddam Hussein is not in power, but I would have approached it in a very different way," he said.

Afghanistan, he said, deserves more attention, because the alliance between al Qaeda and the Taliban "was an issue for the national security of the United States."

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean. The ad attacks his anti-war stance.
Presidential hopeful Howard Dean. The ad attacks his anti-war stance.

This past weekend, Dean called the capture of Saddam, "a great day of pride in the American military and a great day for the Iraqis and a great day for the American people."

The 527 committee's funding has come in part from labor unions, but a spokesman for one of those unions disavowed the spot Wednesday.

"If it was up to me, I'd ask for a refund," said Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which donated $50,000 to the group.

The union has endorsed Gephardt, the Missouri congressman and former House minority leader. But Sloan said the union did not discuss the commercial with Gephardt, and said it could backfire "big time."

"I think this has done more damage to Gephardt than any of his opponents ever could have done. The day after the primary or caucus, the Democrats have to go back to living with each other and working with each other," Sloan said.

"This kind of attack ad just drives them crazy, and rightfully so. It makes the job of pulling back together all that much harder. I don't know what they were using for brains -- lug nuts?"


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