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Pushing Back Before Final Push

In a calm before the final push toward the nations' first caucuses, the Democratic campaign trail was fairly quiet as Iowa's front-runners retooled their strategies.

Only Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina have campaign stops today in Iowa. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri has events in New York and Washington State and former Vermont governor Howard Dean takes a day off in Vermont.

Taking their place on the campaign trail were celebrities. Actor Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlett on "The West Wing," and director Rob Reiner begin a two-day campaign swing on behalf of Dean.

Singer Carole King was holding a concert in Cedar Rapids for Kerry.

Meanwhile, Dean, feeling rivals nipping at his heels, says he is firing back at other leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I'm going after everybody because I'm tired of being the pin cushion here," Dean said Monday.

He told several audiences that if they want to change Washington, they should not vote for a Washington politician. He singled out Kerry, Edwards and Gephardt by name for supporting the Bush administration's war with Iraq.

Dean is also using criticism from his Democratic rivals, Republicans and GOP-leaning interest groups to take in even more cash. He collected about $1 million last week, spokesman David Carle said Monday.

Dean's comments marked a shift in strategy. He had been behaving like a front-runner and attempting to shrug off the daily barbs from his rivals. Just last week he told reporters that he would remain above the fray.

But with the race tightening — polls say Dean is in a close competition with Gephardt for first place in Iowa — he apparently feels the need to distinguish himself and answer back. Dean said Monday that the race is "very close."

He was on the offensive Monday and John Edwards was a frequent target. The North Carolina senator was endorsed by the Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper, over the weekend and CBS News Reporter Alison Schwartz says he is now banking on a strong finish in Iowa, something that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago.

Dean pointed out that Edwards voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq war, as well as for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education bill. Edwards now says his vote on the education measure was a mistake.

"They didn't say much about the war now, did they? They didn't say much against No Child Left Behind either. Who was the one who was willing to take on George Bush when his popularity was at 70 percent?" Dean asked.

Edwards, campaigning in Storm Lake, Iowa, responded by saying that if caucus participants want a candidate "who has been in politics for nearly two decades and is good at sniping at other Democrats, they have other choices, that's not me." Dean got his start in politics in Vermont in 1983.

Meanwhile, in remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Dick Gephardt touted his experience on foreign affairs, and accused Mr. Bush of conducting foreign policy based on "bluster and recycled Cold War taunts."

And in a thinly veiled slap at Dean, Gephardt said that "railing against the system" isn't enough when it comes time to pick a challenger to Mr. Bush on foreign policy.

As he has many times in the campaign, Gephardt defended his vote in favor of the war.

"I don't apologize for that, and I'm not sorry Saddam Hussein is gone," he said. "But the burden of proof for a failed foreign policy does not rest with those who supported it on good faith and with America's security at heart."

Rather, he said, "it is the Bush administration itself that bungled the debate at the U.N., fumbled the U.N.-supervised weapons inspections, failed to build a coalition to help our soldiers, and has no apparent plan to bring safety and democracy to the Iraqi people."

Gephardt was later raising money at a fund-raiser in New York before flying to brief campaign appearances in Seattle and another big fund-raiser in Los Angeles.

He returns to Iowa Wednesday morning, but quickly heads to Michigan, which holds caucuses Feb. 7.

Aides said Gephardt's move outside of Iowa was designed to shore up his standing beyond his base.

With Gephardt's long political history in Iowa, the leadoff caucuses are considered a must-win for him.

Gephardt aides said the decision on the campaign schedule came because of lessons learned when Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses in the 1988 campaign, but then quickly faded.

"We're running a national campaign," said campaign manager Steve Murphy. "You can't just stay in Iowa nonstop. We learned that in 1988."

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