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Gephardt endorses Kerry

Dick Gephardt and John Kerry greet supporters at an endorsement rally in Warren, Michigan.
Dick Gephardt and John Kerry greet supporters at an endorsement rally in Warren, Michigan.

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John F. Kerry
Richard A. Gephardt
Democratic candidates
Presidential primaries

WARREN, Michigan (CNN) -- Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, whose presidential campaign foundered last month, threw his support Friday to Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry's campaign has hopes that an endorsement from Gephardt, a longtime favorite of organized labor, will help him consolidate his standing in Michigan, a big union state, and beyond.

Polls have shown Kerry comfortably ahead of his rivals in Michigan's caucuses Saturday. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

"To beat George Bush, we need a leader who can go toe-to-toe with George Bush in these difficult, dangerous times on national security, toe-to-toe," Gephardt said in a rally with Kerry in Warren.

"We need a leader who can defeat George Bush in November in the general election, and we need a leader who we all know can walk into that Oval Office tomorrow afternoon and be a great president of the United States. That leader is John Kerry, and I'm proud to endorse him to be the president of the United States of America."

Gephardt dropped out of the Democratic race after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in January.

On Friday, Kerry expressed his respect for Gephardt, saying they had worked together in Congress for 20 years.

"Again and again and again, I've watched him not play politics but talk about people's needs, talk about the urgent pressing priorities of this country, and I am grateful for his being here, the Massachutts senator said.

"I'm grateful for his support, and Dick, you may think that you and [your wife] Jane have earned yourselves a vacation, but we've got a lot of work for you to do, and you're going to be working in this thing for a long time to come."

At the rally, Kerry also picked up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm backed Kerry this week, too.

Reaction from Kerry's rivals was muted when word of Gephardt's endorsement leaked Thursday night.

Sen. John Edwards called the Missouri congressman a "wonderful man" but downplayed his role in choosing a president.

"If you look at the history of endorsements in this campaign, they haven't had a lot of sway with voters, which is understandable," Edwards said. "Voters make their own decisions in presidential campaigns."

Edwards has the backing of former U.S. Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, another favorite of organized labor.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean attracted the endorsement of former Vice President Al Gore early on but has failed to win a state in the primary season so far.

Dean, who traded a series of bitter ads with Gephardt before the Iowa caucuses, said the Missouri lawmaker is "a fine person."

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