Braun backs Dean in tight Iowa race
Eight Democrats remain in race for presidential nomination
Carol Moseley Braun announces her departure from the race and her endorsement of Howard Dean on Thursday in Carroll, Iowa.
CNN's Bill Hemmer talks with Sen. Edward Kennedy about the Bush administration.
CNN's Kelly Wallace on Teamsters and teens campaigning in Iowa.
CNN's Candy Crowley on the escalating rhetoric in the push to Iowa.
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CARROLL, Iowa (CNN) -- Four days before the Iowa caucuses, the first Democratic presidential contest appeared to tighten Thursday and the field of candidates shrank to eight.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, throwing her support behind former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
"I am here today to thank those Iowans who were prepared to stand for me in Monday's caucuses and ask that you stand instead for Howard Dean," Braun said Thursday.
She told supporters that she hopes they "will stand for him with the conviction and courage with which you would have stood for me."
Dean, leading in national surveys, and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who also recently endorsed the front-runner, joined Braun in her announcement.
Dean thanked Braun for her backing and encouraged supporters to turn out for Monday's caucuses, which he said were the first step toward wresting the White House from President Bush.
"This is an administration that has forgotten ordinary Americans," he said. "We pay this president's salary. We will pay his retirement after January 2005."
Before the announcement, a Democratic source said Braun felt it was time to quit because her campaign had not caught fire.
"Carol felt like she had done what she needed to do," the source said. "She did herself a lot of good in this race.
"She ran a good race, and now she felt like it was time to hand it over to someone who can win. Those are the feelings that were expressed to me this evening."
Braun was elected to the Senate from Illinois in 1992 but lost a re-election bid in 1998. She is the only African-American woman to have served in the Senate. After her defeat, she was U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.
With Braun out, eight candidates remain in the race for the Democratic nomination.
At least one tracking poll demonstrated the race's fluidity -- especially in a contest decided in community caucus settings -- by showing Dean in a statistical dead heat with John Kerry and Dick Gephardt in Iowa. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar, From Judy's Desk: The stubborn undecideds)
Kerry played down his showing in the three-day Zogby tracking poll, saying he is "just going to keep working."
"I am always wary of polls," Kerry said at a campaign stop in Council Bluffs. "Whether I am up, whether I am down, I am going to keep working hard, and I intend to go out and meet every voter I can in the next few days. I am just going to keep working." (CNN Election Express Line dispatches, today in Council Bluffs)
U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy said he believed his fellow senator from Massachusetts would pull off an upset in the caucuses.
"I think my candidate, John Kerry, has now demonstrated that he's a fighter," Kennedy said on CNN's "American Morning." "People are paying attention in this campaign to his message. I was out there. He's connecting, and I'm very hopeful that he'll have a real surprise on Monday night."
Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi discounted the numbers, noting that experts consider most polling for the caucuses unreliable.
"It is a tight race," Trippi told MSNBC. "We believe we're still ahead. Our numbers show that."
Dean, Clark trade jabs
Dean on Wednesday trained his rhetorical guns on New Hampshire primary rival Wesley Clark, questioning Clark's credentials as a Democrat.
"He is a good guy, but I truly believe he is a Republican," Dean said of the retired Army general and former NATO supreme commander who declared himself a Democrat shortly before entering the presidential race last year.
If Clark were to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Dean said, the general election would be "the Republican primary."
Clark called Dean's comments "old-time politics" and said he is a "Democrat of conviction."
"When I got out of the military, I was courted by both parties. I chose to become a Democrat," Clark said in Concord, New Hampshire, adding that he has voted for Al Gore and President Clinton. Gore has endorsed Dean. (Full story)
Wesley Clark talks with workers in Concord, New Hampshire. He's not in contention in the Iowa caucuses.
"As a Democratic nominee, I will bring a lot of other people to this party, and that is one of the things we have to do to win," Clark said.
Clark has risen to second behind Dean in polls ahead of the January 27 New Hampshire primary. (Poll: Dean, Clark lead Dems, Interactive: Fast look at poll results)
Dean said he was bothered by Clark's appearance at a May 2001 GOP fund-raiser in his home state of Arkansas where he said "great things about Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush."
At a Democratic candidate forum in October, Clark said he considered himself "nonpartisan" at the time and wanted the Bush national security team "to be successful."
Clark, a former CNN commentator, has said the Iraq war was a "mistake." He said military families are starting to believe "that the Bush administration is trying to use the armed forces as a political weapon in this domestic election." (Clark defends 2002 Iraq statement)
Gephardt questions Dean record on labor
Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri blasted Dean in a sharply worded speech Wednesday, calling him a "fair-weather friend" of American workers and railing against "the cynical politics of manufactured anger."
Gephardt condemned Dean's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement while Vermont's governor in the 1990s. He questioned the sincerity of Dean's campaign pledge to seek labor and environmental protections in new trade pacts.
Dick Gephardt talks Thursday to supporters in Mason City, Iowa.
"Howard Dean travels the country and yells and pounds the podium against NAFTA, against the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney White House and against insider corporate deals," Gephardt said in a speech in Nevada, Iowa.
"To me, there is no room for the cynical politics of manufactured anger and false conviction," said Gephardt, the former House minority leader.
Gephardt also blasted Bush's handling of the economy, saying the president has ignored the plight of an estimated 43 million Americans who lack health care coverage and has failed to spur job creation.
"When it comes to the economy, this MBA president has no Plan B," he said. "But then, George W. Bush ran three oil companies into the ground before he became president."
• A Dean spokesman responded to a letter published Wednesday in USA Today by saying there was no contradiction between the candidate's opposition to the war in Iraq and his call for unilateral U.S. airstrikes on Serb forces in Bosnia in 1995. Dean urged President Clinton to use American warplanes to support the embattled Bosnian Islamic government during that country's three-year civil war, according to the letter. Campaign spokesman Jay Carson said Dean opposed the Iraq war "because it was the wrong war at the wrong time, not because he believes military force should never be used." (Full story)
• Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he believes candidates who don't win in Iowa, New Hampshire or any of the seven contests February 3 should consider dropping out of the race.
• Bush unveiled an ambitious plan Wednesday to return Americans to the moon by 2020 and use the mission as a steppingstone for future manned trips to Mars and beyond. (Full story)
• Dean is to travel Sunday to former President Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains, Georgia, but only to go to church, not to gather an endorsement, his campaign said. "Dean feels that there are few things that could be more appropriate the day before the Iowa caucus than attend Sunday school and church with Jimmy Carter," said Carson, the campaign spokesman. "Carter has been very, very friendly to us. He really likes the governor. But the direct words out of his mouth have been that he's not going to endorse anyone in the '04 race. We're still talking to him, but we've pretty much accepted that he's not going to do it."
CNN's Candy Crowley, Bob Franken, Phil Hirschkorn, Adam Levine, John Mercurio, Deirdre Walsh and Judy Woodruff contributed to this report.