CHARLES CITY, Iowa - Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean is expecting another major lift today with the endorsement of former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Bradley's endorsement, to be announced at a pancake breakfast in Manchester, N.H., follows by a month that of former Vice President Al Gore, who was challenged by Bradley for the party's nomination in 2000.
Dean campaign officials declined to identify the "special guest" appearance that prompted last-minute changes in the former governor's Iowa campaign schedule.
But they also declined to deny that the "guest" was Bradley.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Dean's chief rival for delegates in Iowa's Jan. 19 caucuses, expressed disappointment at not receiving Bradley's backing but downplayed its significance in the final two weeks of campaigning in this state.
"I would have preferred to have Bill Bradley's endorsement; I would have loved to have had Al Gore's endorsement; I would like to have everybody's endorsement," Gephardt told reporters after a rally with union members in Des Moines.
"But in the end, it isn't endorsements that win this - it is the people's vote," Gephardt said. "And the folks here are very independent, and they make their own judgment about who they want to vote for."
Bradley, 60, served three terms in the Senate from 1979 to 1996 after a stellar career as a basketball player in the professional and college ranks. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Princeton.
In his campaign for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, Bradley lost badly to Gore in the Iowa caucus, 63 percent to 35 percent, largely because of Gore's union backing.
He fared better in the New Hampshire primary a week later, with 46 percent of the vote to Gore's 50 percent.
The core of Bradley's support in 2000 was similar to the core of the coalition that Dean has built in 2004 - legions of younger, tech-savvy, well-educated and financially well-off Democrats, some getting their first taste of grass-roots primary politics.
Dean made two brief appearances in northern Iowa yesterday before jetting to North Dakota, one of six states voting Feb. 3, and on to New Hampshire for Bradley's endorsement.
Bradley is expected to accompany Dean back to Iowa for campaign appearances worked in around a debate sponsored by National Public Radio, the second debate in three days for the Democratic rivals.
Although the Iowa caucus is widely viewed as a battle chiefly between Dean and Gephardt, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina both campaigned in the state yesterday.
A strong third-place finish in Iowa can be helpful in building momentum for subsequent primaries, and among the top-tier candidates, Kerry and Edwards are the two best-positioned for such a finish.
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark are not contesting the Iowa caucus. And none of the other candidates, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and the Rev. Al Sharpton, is given much chance of winning any delegates in the caucusing.
Clark, campaigning in New Hampshire, offered a plan to simplify the federal income tax system, including the elimination of all taxes for families of four that make less than $50,000 a year. He proposed paying for his plan by repealing Bush's tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 a year.