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Inside Politics

Gephardt, Dean trade barbs about nasty campaign tactics

Democratic hopefuls Dick Gephart, left, and Howard Dean are running neck-and-neck in Iowa.
Democratic hopefuls Dick Gephart, left, and Howard Dean are running neck-and-neck in Iowa.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt on Thursday accused Howard Dean's camp of illegally sending out-of-state supporters to Iowa to caucus in cities and towns across the state -- an accusation Dean's manager called "ridiculous on its face."

The accusation by Gephardt's campaign is one of the most serious leveled at Dean, the front-runner who has become a larger target in the weeks before the January 19 Iowa caucus, the kickoff of the presidential election year.

Dean and Gephardt are running neck-and-neck in Iowa. The first poll conducted this year, the independent Research 2000 Iowa Poll, shows Dean with 29 percent of the vote among those polled and Gephardt with 25 percent. It also shows Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, surging in Iowa with 18 percent of the vote -- nearly double what a poll showed for him there last month.

In a letter to Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, Gephardt's manager, Steve Murphy, said a Dean staff member "has contacted us to confess that efforts to send non-Iowans to caucus is indeed a critical piece of your 'perfect storm' strategy.

"I don't need to tell you that not only would such an effort undermine the Iowa Caucus on January 19th, but it would tarnish the reputation of this unique political event and threaten the future of something that Democrats such as us love and cherish," Murphy wrote.

In an interview on CNN's Inside Politics, Trippi blasted Murphy for making such an accusation, saying there "isn't anything going on in our campaign like that."

"It's ridiculous on its face," he said.

Trippi said 3,500 Dean supporters from 48 states have canvassed Iowa to gather support for the former Vermont governor, but none will take part in the actual caucus. Even if a campaign tried such a tactic, he noted, Iowa is made up of tight-knit communities that would catch on to the illegal tactic.

"You'd never get away with it," Trippi said.

Trippi also fired off a letter back to Gephardt's campaign manager. "I am saddened by your letter today because sleazy tactics like yours are exactly the reason that people have stopped participating in the political process," he wrote.

The Gephardt campaign called on Dean's camp to fire anyone involved "with this illegal endeavor" to "ensure the integrity of the Iowa caucuses now and in the future."

Trippi said that wouldn't be necessary. "I assure you these allegations are false," he wrote.

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