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Dean urges rivals to stop 'silly' infighting

'I'm not going to engage with the other guys on that silly stuff'

Howard Dean on the chairman of the Democratic National Committee:
Howard Dean on the chairman of the Democratic National Committee: "Terry McAuliffe and I get along fine."

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Howard Dean
Democratic Party

FLORENCE, South Carolina (CNN) -- Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said Tuesday that he has reached out to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe after his published comments about the party chief sparked a new round of criticism from his rivals.

Speaking to CNN at a campaign stop in the eastern South Carolina city of Florence, he also struck out at his competitors for engaging in what he called "silly" in-fighting that could damage chances for a Democrat to retake the White House in 2004.

Dean declined to say what he and McAuliffe discussed in a Monday phone call. "Terry McAuliffe and I get along fine," he said.

"We talk often, and that's all."

The call came a day after publication of a New York Times article in which Dean accused McAuliffe of failing to prevent a gory battle among Democrats seeking the presidential nomination. (Rivals hit Dean for criticism of Democratic Party boss)

"If we had strong leadership in the Democratic Party, they would be calling those other candidates and saying, 'Hey look, somebody's going to have to win here,' " he told the newspaper.

Those remarks drew the ire of several other Democratic hopefuls.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut called them "outrageous."

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts issued a statement saying Dean's comments led him to wonder "if he's worried about our party's chances for victory or his own personal political future." (Full story)

Lieberman, Kerry and others have portrayed Dean as hypocritical, insisting he was the first to deploy negative campaign tactics.

"I think that the other guys are so upset with our campaign that they're not running a positive campaign," Dean said Tuesday.

"I don't think we can beat George Bush without running a positive campaign, and we are going to continue to run a positive campaign."

Asked about complaints that he used negative campaigning before then calling on party leadership to stop others from doing so, Dean replied, "That kind of talk is not going to win the primary; it's not going to win the election. ...

"I want to change presidents, and I'm not going to engage with the other guys on that silly stuff. We're going to talk about the important issues."

Dean is the Democratic front-runner in recent polls nationwide and in surveys in New Hampshire, which hosts the party's first presidential primary next month. (CNN's interactive Election Calendar and Primary explainer)

CNN's Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

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