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Inside Politics

Kerry fends off attacks over fund raising

Dean: 'Enormous gamble' didn't pay off

John Kerry gestures during a rally Sunday at the Fargo Air Museum in North Dakota.
John Kerry gestures during a rally Sunday at the Fargo Air Museum in North Dakota.

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Tuesday, February 3: Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, Delaware, South Carolina primaries; North Dakota and New Mexico caucuses

Saturday, February 7: Michigan and Washington caucuses

Sunday, February 8: Maine caucuses

Tuesday, February 10: Tennessee primary and Virginia primaries

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FARGO, North Dakota (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry braved sub-zero temperatures Sunday to stump for votes in frosty North Dakota, while his rivals tried to heat up the race with a new line of attack: that the Democratic front-runner has been too cozy with lobbyists to effectively lead the fight against powerful special interests.

The Kerry campaign was also confronted with a report in the current issue of Newsweek that the senator's office contacted federal regulators to assist a friend of Johnny Chung, a central figure in the 1996 fund-raising scandals, shortly before Chung threw a fund-raiser for Kerry's Senate re-election campaign that year.

Kerry said Sunday that he had "no recollection" of meeting Chung. He also said Chung, who later pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to both Kerry and former President Bill Clinton, received no special treatment because of his fund-raising help.

"This is old news. It's been thoroughly vetted, it was investigated. The moment we had learned anything about that contribution, we returned the entire contribution," he told reporters in Fargo.

But Howard Dean blasted Kerry over his dealings with Chung, saying he owes the American people an "apology."

"John Kerry has absolutely no credibility at all anymore when it comes to fighting special interests in Washington," the former Vermont governor told reporters aboard his campaign plane Sunday. "This is exactly the kind of behavior that George Bush, on a much grander scale, does."

Earlier in the day, in an interview with NBC's "Meet The Press," Dean also stood behind the criticism he leveled at Kerry on Saturday, after figures from the Center for Responsive Politics surfaced showing Kerry had received more campaign contributions from registered lobbyists since 1989 than any current or former senator.

On CBS's Face The Nation Sunday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said Dean's characterization Saturday of Kerry as a Republican was "ridiculous."

But as he has throughout the campaign, Edwards tried to position himself as a Washington outsider who would fight special interests, saying he has taken no contributions from registered lobbyists.

"I think we need real change in Washington. I think we need real change in America. And I believe somebody like me, who's not been in Washington for 15 to 20 years, is the best person to bring about that change," said Edwards, who is serving his first term in the Senate.

The CRP's figures on contributions from lobbyists do not include contributions from lawyers, many of whom lobby on behalf of their clients.

Among current and former senators during the past 15 years, Edwards, a trial lawyer, has received more money from lawyers than anyone else, followed by Kerry.

In other campaign developments Sunday, Kerry was endorsed by Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, which holds caucuses Saturday, and the United Farm Workers.

How the numbers add up

On Tuesday, Democrats in five states -- Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina -- go to the polls in primaries, while North Dakota and New Mexico hold caucuses.

Republicans will hold primaries in Missouri and Oklahoma, where President Bush faces no significant opposition.

In all, 269 Democratic delegates are up for grabs Tuesday, about 12 percent of the 2,161 delegates needed to win the nomination at the party's national convention July 26. (Where things stand: A delegates scorecard)

After victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Kerry is trying to ride a wave of momentum to a string of victories Tuesday that could narrow the field, while his rivals are looking for a breakthrough victory to keep them in the race.

The latest CNN/Los Angeles Times polls of likely voters show Kerry with a double-digit lead over Edwards in Missouri and narrow edge over retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark in Arizona. Those are the two largest states holding contests Tuesday, with together nearly half of the 269 delegates up for grabs. (Poll: Three states, one question)

However, in South Carolina, Edwards led Kerry by a wide margin, according to the poll. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton trailed in the three polls.

Edwards was born in South Carolina, represents neighboring North Carolina in the Senate and has tried to position himself as the candidate best able to compete against Bush in the Republican-leaning South.

He has said he must win the primary in the Palmetto State to remain viable as a candidate.

"We are past all the preliminary stages. It's time for you, the people of South Carolina, to choose a president," Edwards said Sunday at a campaign stop in Columbia, one of four South Carolina cities where he was campaigning Sunday.

"I came here today to ask you to choose a president that you believe you, your children and your grandchildren will be proud of."

The 'enormous gamble' that failed

Dean, once the front-runner in the Democratic race, does not appear to be a factor in any of the states voting Tuesday.

After stumbling in New Hampshire and Iowa, he is focusing on states later in the calendar, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, California and New York.

In his NBC interview Sunday, Dean acknowledged that his campaign's strategy of trying to ride his front-runner status to wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then using that momentum to move into the subsequent primaries, was an "enormous gamble" that fell flat.

"We spent a lot of money in Iowa and New Hampshire, trying to win. We were trying to do what, essentially, John Kerry is now doing," he said. "We were planning on trying to get the huge momentum out of Iowa, and it didn't work."

He also dismissed comments from Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe that candidates who don't win anything Tuesday should consider getting out of the race.

"In December, when we were just getting pounded by every other candidate, I asked Terry to step in because I thought it was getting kind of destructive," Dean said. "Terry decided to be neutral, so I suggest he still remain neutral."

Former Vice President Al Gore, who has endorsed Dean, campaigned for him Sunday in Michigan.

"I think that he can bring the needed change," Gore said. "But I think there are a lot of good candidates running, and whoever gets the nomination I heartily endorse as a preferable alternative [to Bush.]"

Clark spent much of the day in Oklahoma, where polls show the former NATO supreme commander in a tight race with Kerry and Edwards, before leaving for Arizona, where he's also in the hunt.

Lieberman campaigned Sunday in Delaware, the smallest of the states holding primaries Tuesday, where a recent poll showed him in second place, though well behind Kerry.

"We're going to let the voters speak," Lieberman said. "There's no question John Kerry has gotten a bounce from his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Iowa and New Hampshire -- great states, great people -- are not the country."

CNN's Kelly Wallace, Candy Crowley; Mike Roselli, Justin Dial and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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