Two Democratic rivals on Thursday accused the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean of recruiting out-of-state volunteers to influence the upcoming Iowa caucuses.
At the same time, four-year-old footage from Canadian television emerged in which Dean criticized the caucus system.
Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt's campaign manager Steven Murphy claims a Dean staffer told a Gephardt worker the Dean campaign planned to bring in non-Iowa residents to boost Dean's support at the caucuses.
"In the past several weeks, it has come to our attention that your campaign in Iowa is engaged in an effort to violate caucus rules and send out-of-state supporters to pose as Iowa residents and caucus in cities and towns across the state," Murphy wrote in a letter to the Dean campaign.
Murphy, who said Gephardt believed he would win in Iowa, pledged to challenge caucus results in any precinct where fraud occurred. He asked Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, to repudiate the alleged tactics.
According to the Iowa Democratic Party's Website, voters can register for the caucuses up until the night of the vote.
Trippi said the allegation was ridiculous and suggested that Gephardt was threatened by the fact that 3,500 people from 48 states have driven to Iowa to campaign on Dean's behalf.
"These allegations are not just an insult to Howard Dean and me, but they are an insult to all of the new people we're bringing into the process," Trippi wrote.
Meanwhile, John Norris, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's campaign director, charged that two men pretending to be Iowa voters visited a Kerry campaign office this week, seeking information. The men later admitted they had been sent by the Dean campaign, Norris said.
Norris did not allege that the men were planning to pose as Iowa voters at the caucuses, but hinted he suspected as much.
"If your hired staff are already misrepresenting themselves today," Norris wrote in a letter to Dean's state campaign director, Jeanni Murray, "how can any Iowa voter trust that your campaign will prevent volunteers from engaging in the same illegitimate activity on January 19th?"
Norris demanded the two Dean staffers be fired.
The campaign of retired Gen. Wesley Clark also accused Dean aides of unfair tactics.
At a Clark event in New Hampshire, men wearing Dean paraphernalia distributed flyers bearing quotes from publications and interviews that suggest Clark has flip-flopped on whether or not he would support the war in Iraq.
Although one of the men wearing a knit Dean hat would not comment as to whether or not he worked for Dean, the flyers bore the label, "Paid for by Dean for America," says CBS News Reporter Bonney Kapp.
The charges against Dean come as he and Gephardt vie for first place in the Jan. 19 caucuses, the first test of the primary season and a crucial hurdle for both Dean, who must prove his frontrunner status, and Gephardt, who as a Midwesterner is under pressure to make a good showing.
Kerry, whose prospects in New Hampshire are fading in recent polls, is also striving for a solid finish.
Surveys indicate the Iowa race is tightening:
A poll by Research 2000 for CBS affiliate KCCI, which contacted 600 likely voters from Jan. 5-7, found Dean and Gephardt in a statistical dead heat. Dean had the support of 29 percent of respondents, and Gephardt 25 percent — within the polls' 5 percent margin of error. Kerry trailed with 18 percent. The other candidates were in single digits.
The caucuses do not operate like primaries, in which voters cast ballots at polling stations. Instead, each precinct holds a meeting for eligible voters where a complicated formula determines how delegates are elected. Since a candidate needs a certain minimum level of support at a caucus, voters for less popular candidates sometimes must switch their vote to candidates with more support.
Dean once criticized that system, on the Canadian program "The Editors," on which then-Gov. Dean was a frequent guest, according to NBC. Dean said caucuses were "dominated by the special interests in both parties" because they lasted too long to allow average, working people to attend. The comments were made almost exactly four years ago.
Gordon Fischer, the state's Democratic chairman, disagreed with Dean.
"The Iowa caucuses are dominated by regular Iowans who are concerned about bread and butter issues that all Americans care about," Fischer said.
Gephardt, who won the caucuses in 1988, slammed Dean's comments.
"It would lead one to believe that he is cynically participating in these caucuses," he said. "And I can't understand his comments about the special interests dominating the Iowa caucuses. Who are the special interests that are dominating these caucuses. Is it the farmers? Is it organized labor? Is it senior citizens? Is it workers?"
In a statement, Dean said: "I have spent nearly two years here in Iowa, talking to Iowans and campaigning in all 99 counties. I believe it's time to stand together, in common purpose, to take our country back – and the Iowa caucus is where it all begins."
"I support the Iowa caucus and I have already promised Gordon Fischer that if elected, the Iowa caucus will be first again in 2008," he said.
"Four years ago, I didn't really understand the Iowa caucuses," Dean said later, making general comments rather than addressing the Canadian program. "I wouldn't be where I am without the Iowa caucuses."