Iowa Sen. Harkin endorses Dean
Backing comes just 10 days before Iowa caucus
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, whose support has been courted by most of the '04 Democratic presidential candidates, gave his backing to Howard Dean.
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa's senior and most popular Democrat, endorsed Howard Dean for president Friday.
The endorsement comes just 10 days before the key Iowa caucuses that Harkin himself swept in 1992. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)
"I like and respect each one of them, but for me one candidate rose to the top as our best shot to beat George W. Bush and to give Americans the opportunity to take our country back," Harkin told Dean supporters at the former Vermont governor's state campaign headquarters. "That person is Governor Howard Dean."
"As we Iowans say, Howard Dean has his head screwed on right."
In Manchester, New Hampshire, Dean told 'Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics' on CNN that he values the vote of confidence. "I'm glad to have Tom Harkin's endorsement. Tom is a tough street fighter. And he understands what ordinary Americans have suffered under this president," Dean said.
Harkin won the 1992 Iowa caucus in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. His campaign went on to win primaries in Minnesota and Idaho before sputtering to a halt after winning just 10 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary.
Harkin's move was Dean's second big endorsement this week.
On Tuesday, Dean picked up another key endorsement, from former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the party's presidential nomination four years ago. And last month, former vice president Al Gore endorsed Dean. (Al Gore endorses Howard Dean, Bill Bradley endorses Dean)
Harkin press secretary Allison Dobson said Dean's ability to attract new members into the party was a major factor in Harkin's decision.
"He has been thinking about this decision long and hard, and felt that Governor Dean rose to the top as the best candidate to beat George W. Bush in November," she said.
"He has tremendous respect for all the candidates personally and, as candidates, it was a very hard decision."
Since Jimmy Carter in 1980, Harkin has endorsed the eventual winner of every Iowa caucus, except for 1988 when he did not endorse anyone because two friends, Paul Simon and Dick Gephardt, were running. Gephardt is also running this year.
The 64-year-old Harkin is a political icon in the Hawkeye State where he grew up.
A Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, he first went to Washington in 1974 as a member of the House, where he served for 10 years.
A decade later, he was elected senator, a position he was re-elected to in 1990, 1996 and 2002.
On Capitol Hill, Harkin is known as an avid fighter for education, health care and agriculture.