Former basketball star and presidential candidate Bill Bradley on Tuesday endorsed Howard Dean, giving him the backing of both of the leading candidates for the last Democratic presidential nomination.
Bradley, who represented New Jersey in the Senate, announced his endorsement Tuesday during a campaign swing through New Hampshire and Iowa.
"His campaign offers America new hope. His supporters are breathing fresh air into the lungs of our democracy," Bradley said. "He has tapped into the same wonderful idealism that I saw in the yes of Americans in 2000 and he has nourished it into a powerful force."
Dean rescheduled a pancake breakfast in Muscatine, Iowa, Tuesday morning to appear with Bradley in Manchester, N.H. The two were then scheduled to fly to Iowa for a rally in Des Moines.
Al Gore, who beat Bradley for the nomination four years ago, endorsed Dean last month. Their support adds to the momentum of a campaign that has skyrocketed Dean from little-known Vermont governor to front-runner for the nomination.
The Bradley endorsement comes amid increasingly sharp attacks from rivals of the former Vermont governor, who has gained front-runner status with money, endorsements and support in state and national polls.
Bradley, 60, served three terms as senator, from 1979 to 1996. He was a Rhodes Scholar and an All-American basketball player at Princeton and later a star with the New York Knicks.
Both Dean and Bradley started their presidential campaigns as underdogs running against better-known rivals. Both stressed expansion of health care and racial healing.
In the 2000 Democratic primaries, Bradley took a big loss to the sitting vice president in the Iowa caucuses, getting only 35 percent of the vote to Gore's 63 percent. He fared better in New Hampshire one week later, earning 46 percent of the vote, considerably closer to Gore's 50 percent.
Bradley was a favorite of higher-educated, higher-income Democrats, according to party polls, a constituency that has leaned toward Dean in this year's contest.
As he announced his endorsement to an energetic group of Dean supporters, Bradley addressed the chief criticism of the Democratic frontrunner: That as a former governor of a small state who opposed the war in Iraq, he poses little challenge to President Bush in a campaign where national security is likely to be a key issue.
"This campaign can defeat the incumbent because it can marshal a positive patriotism focused on the good we can do in the world and not just the negative patriotism obsessed with the fear of what others in the world might do to us," Bradley said.
"Howard Dean is the candidate best able to return the fire in ways the other side doesn't expect."
Dean called Bradley a "thoughtful, careful person" and said the former Senator "stood up against the same forces we're standing up against in Washington … the forces of the radical right."
Dean's rivals downplayed the impact of the endorsement, as they did with Gore's.
"The people in New Hampshire pick presidents," Wesley Clark said while campaigning in Nashua, N.H. "They don't need people to tell them what to do."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said he wasn't surprised by the endorsement from his former Senate colleague. "I think endorsements are dubious. Look, Gore endorsed him and the race isn't over," Kerry said.
Bradley is now active in the private sector. According to a biography provided by Starbucks, where he had been a director since June, Bradley in managing director at Allen & Company, an investment firm, and is an advisor on nonprofit companies to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.