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Democrats jab Dean after endorsement

Dean gets the endorsement of the National Education Association's New Hampshire chapter.
Dean gets the endorsement of the National Education Association's New Hampshire chapter.

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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- With Howard Dean's campaign gaining momentum, his Democratic rivals went on the offensive Wednesday, saying the former Vermont governor is too distant from the middle class and is moving the Democratic Party away from its roots.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina boldly said Dean is "not going to be the nominee."

The attacks on Dean stood in stark contrast to Tuesday's Democratic debate, when the other presidential hopefuls offered surprisingly little criticism of the Democratic front-runner.

And one day after Dean picked up a key endorsement from Al Gore, he gained the support of New Hampshire's teachers union, the largest union in the Granite State, as he appeared to be pulling away from the pack in the first primary state.

A poll conducted by a local New Hampshire television station showed Dean with 35 percent support and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts a distant second, with 12 percent of the voters polled supporting him.

But Kathy Sullivan, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman, said the race is still wide open.

"I'm still not sure what's going to happen in this race," she said. "The voters are still looking them over."

Speaking in Manchester, Kerry accused Dean of flip-flopping on the war in Iraq and took him to task for wanting to raise taxes. Dean has repeatedly said he would repeal President Bush's tax cuts.

"I don't want to raise taxes," Kerry said. "The governor wants to raise taxes on the middle class. I think that's an enormous mistake for our economy, and I think it's unfair to middle class people who don't have the problem of having too much money."

Edwards also seized on Dean's willingness to jack up taxes. Edwards accused Dean, who was born to an affluent Park Avenue family, of being too distant to the middle class, especially Southerners, to win the nomination.

"We have to have a candidate who they feel a personal connection to. They have to believe that our candidate, the person who's leading our ticket, understands their lives at a gut-level," he said.

The son of a mill worker, Edwards added: "When he talks about raising taxes on the middle class -- which he does talk about, which he does support -- I think I have a better understanding of what that means in people's lives."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- still miffed by Gore's endorsement of Dean -- charged that Dean and "now Al Gore" want to take the country "back to where it was before Bill Clinton transformed us in 1992."

"Howard Dean is moving us in a different direction, away from the center. And I think that spells danger for the Democratic Party," Lieberman said.

After Tuesday's debate, Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi sounded as if he was anticipating a more heated campaign in the days ahead.

"So far, every time someone's attacked us, we've gotten stronger," he said.

Dean, meanwhile, was warmly greeted by labor union representatives in Hooksett, New Hampshire, where he said the Bush administration has done too little for workers' rights.

"This administration has done everything it can to protect large corporations," he said. "Let's make sure that globalization extends not only to multinational corporations, but it extends to workers' rights, human rights and environmental rights everywhere in the world."

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