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Al Gore endorses Howard Dean

Former Vice President Al Gore announces his endorsement Tuesday of Howard Dean's candidacy at a rally in Manhattan's Harlem.

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From the Wolf Blitzer Reports staff in Washington:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A political earthquake hit the presidential race and Howard Dean emerged from the rubble with a prize.

"We need to remake the Democratic Party. We need to remake America. We need to take it back, on behalf of the people of this country. So I'm very proud and honored to endorse Howard Dean to be the next president of the United States of America," announced Al Gore Tuesday.

Later, Dean reflected on the gravity of this announcement.

"When I heard about the endorsement I was ecstatic," said the former governor of Vermont.

But right now, the Democratic establishment may be wondering just what hit it.

The other Democratic candidates certainly are, including the man who ran with Gore in 2000.

"I was surprised, but I was more determined than ever to continue to fight for what's right for my party and my country," said presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman says Al Gore did not call him beforehand to let him know about the Dean endorsement.

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"I like Al Gore, he's a surpassingly decent guy. But this was an indecent act. Gore called Joe Lieberman three years ago, said 'If anything happens to me, God forbid, I want you to run the country.' He could have called Howard Dean ... What changed?" said Paul Begala, host of CNN's Crossfire.

And now, how will the party change? Gore's endorsement of one of the more left-leaning candidates, a man whose antiwar position has already split him off from more centrist Democrats, has some concerned about a party rift that may not be healed in time for the general election.

A concern quickly dismissed by a jubilant Dean campaign.

"We think at the end of the day, it's going to be a united Democratic party which we're looking forward to, behind a guy, Howard Dean, who can beat George Bush," said Dean campaign strategist Steve McMahon.

As he swings through Iowa with his new best friend, it does seem now that Dean has it all: A democratic standard-bearer at his side, more money raised than his party competitors and momentum heading into Iowa and New Hampshire next month.

But the hardest question still lingers: Is he really the Democrats' best hope to defeat the Bush machine?

"There's one big secret to Howard Dean's success," says CNN Political Analyst Bill Schneider. "Liberals feel bullied. They feel bullied by the right ... Howard Dean stepped forward and said 'I'm going to punch the bully in the nose' and all Democrats are saying 'Hurray for you' and they're following him. That's a real issue."

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