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Dean stands by comments on Hussein

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean again rejected criticism yesterday over his refusal to acknowledge the capture of Saddam Hussein as progress in the war on terrorism.

In remarks in Manchester before a speech on domestic policy, Dean defiantly cast the attacks from Republicans and rival Democrats as the work of Washington insiders.

"The Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative to the American people," Dean said. "We must make it clear that the capture of one very bad man does not mean that this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror."

On Monday, Dean said that the nation was in no better position after Hussein's capture, a line Dean said he personally added to a major speech on foreign policy that he delivered in Los Angeles.

Democratic rivals have been harshly critical of Dean's words. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said Dean had crawled into a "spider hole of denial." Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts said Dean showed a lack of "leadership skills or diplomatic temperament" to be president.

But Dean has held to his position. Yesterday afternoon, he told a crowd at a Manchester public library, "The truth is, Americans are no safer today from these threats than they were the day before Hussein's capture."

Dean said the attacks by his rivals are the work of the "politics-as-usual club."

"This is not good for the Democratic Party to have this blather going on in Washington," he said. "They are really making so many charges on top of each other, and I think the public is having trouble figuring who's who. It's not good for the Democratic Party because people see that and it turns them off to Democrats. I don't think it does much for our credibility."

Dean's remarks preceded what his campaign billed as a major speech on domestic policy, although it was largely a repackaging of positions he has already laid out, including his support for greater corporate oversight.

In a brief news conference afterward, Dean grappled again with questions about remarks he made in which he mentioned a rumor that President Bush might have had warning, via Saudi Arabia, that Osama bin Laden was planning the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush has dismissed the remarks as an "absurd insinuation."

Asked whether repeating the rumors was responsible behavior, Dean said, "I think the issue of raising theories that I believe are not true is something the administration has done." Prompted again to answer the question, Dean said, "I think that you'll have to make that judgment yourself."

Despite the onslaught from outside the campaign, supporters seemed to rally to Dean's defense. The Dean campaign's Web log -- a kind of online journal for supporters -- was filled with effervescent entries about Dean's stance, and praise for a posting made by Dean yesterday that called on Americans to donate their frequent flier miles to help US soldiers make it home for the holidays.

One entry read: "Let's elect Dean and make sure our men and women are never sent again to fight an unjust war." Another lambasted Bush for going "in front of the cameras to say `We got Saddam.' Wretched. Just wretched."

At a meeting at a North Conway school, some Dean supporters said they remained unconvinced about Dean's claims about the impact of Hussein's capture, even if they were sympathetic.

"I don't agree with that," said sign designer John Goodwin, 52, of Conway, referring to Dean's satement that America is not safer. "But I think he was speaking metaphorically." Still, Goodwin said he agreed with Dean that the $87 billion earmarked for Iraq and Afghanistan could be put to better use in the United States.

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