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Dean starts to talk religion

Attacks GOP, vows to expand on his beliefs

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean peppered an attack on Republican leaders yesterday with religious references, the first showing of what he promised last week would be a broader introduction of religion into his talk on the stump.

"Let's get into a little religion here," Dean said at a morning meeting with voters in response to a question about his beliefs. "Don't you think Jerry Falwell reminds you a lot more of the Pharisees than he does of the teachings of Jesus? And don't you think this campaign ought to be about evicting the money changers from the temple?"

Dean, 55, who is a Congregationalist, has run a largely secular campaign to date, rarely speaking about religion except to offer support for separation of church and state.

But in an interview last week, Dean said he planned to share his religious views on the trail more frequently, particularly as his campaign moves south into states like South Carolina, which holds its primary Feb. 3.

Yesterday, Dean said, "So we can talk a lot about religion, and you're going to find out that there are a lot of people who are religious in this country and not every one of us feels obligated to talk about it all the time."

In a change of practice for the campaign, the Waterloo event got underway with an invocation from a local minister, the Rev. ConGarry Williams, who was asked to speak by one of the regional organizers, according to a campaign spokesman.

At the event, Dean picked up the endorsement of US Representative Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the third highest-ranking Democrat in the House and the highest-ranking Latino in congressional history. He is Dean's 28th congressional endorsement, pulling Dean closer to rival US Representative Richard A. Gephardt's congressional endorsement tally, which stands at 34..

Meanwhile, as Dean came under blistering attack by another contender for the Democratic nomination, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who was speaking in New Hampshire, the former Vermont governor stepped up his own rhetoric, dipping into the kind of anti-GOP lines that won him notice early in his campaign. "Republican constituencies are not us," Dean said. "They are corporations and very, very wealthy individuals."

But he also seemed at pains to find balance between optimism and anger.

Dean has been criticized by some who say that being the "anti-Bush" candidate will win partisans who make up a large chunk of primary voters but will lose the support of crucial swing votes in the general election.

"We don't think there is a reason to give up," Dean said in answer to a question from an audience member about the tone of his message. "This really is a campaign which is based much more on hope. Anger is part of it because I think we have a right to be angry, because our government has given us up for their corporate sponsors. But I also think this country was founded by ordinary people."

On a day that took Dean to campaign stops across eastern Iowa, Dean used a lunchtime break to offer his thoughts about mad cow disease. At Morg's diner in Waterloo, Dean took a big bite of a hamburger, and mugging for television cameras, declared, "I think the nation's beef supply is very safe."

At the Waterloo event, Dean seemed primed and ready to talk about religion when an audience member pressed him to elaborate on his views. But he seemed exercised by criticism he had encountered since unveiling his plans to share his religious beliefs with voters.

Yesterday, Dean told voters in Waterloo, "I think religion is important and spiritual values are very important, which is what this election is really about," before looping back to a regular line in his stump speech lamenting the loss of jobs in America.

The line that drew applause, though, was this: "I am pretty religious. I pray every day but I'm from New England, so I just keep it to myself."

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