NEW HAMPTON, Iowa -- Howard Dean, whose presidential campaign has already won the backing of former vice president Al Gore, is planning a surprise visit to New Hampshire Tuesday in expectation of receiving the endorsement of the other leading Democratic contender from the 2000 race, former US senator Bill Bradley.
Democrats in New Hampshire and other parts of New England have been invited to a previously unscheduled appearance by Dean in Manchester for what is being billed as "a very special breakfast'' at which "a surprise endorsement is in store.'' Dean had been scheduled to attend a pancake breakfast in Muscatine, Iowa, about the same time, before participating in a candidate forum in Des Moines in the early afternoon.
A senior aide traveling early this morning with Dean in northern Iowa authenticated the invitation but refused to say that Bradley was planning to endorse Dean, explaining, "Nothing is confirmed at this point.'' The aide acknowledged that scrapping the early-morning event in Iowa, whose kickoff caucuses are two weeks from tonight, Monday would be unusual, particularly on the day of a debate, but the aide explained, "It wouldn't be the only wacky thing we've done in this campaign.'' Dean is expected to fly back to Des Moines to participate in the candidate forum.
When Gore announced his endorsement of Dean last month, it came after Dean secretively asked his staff to order extra charter planes for a media contingent -- without explaining why -- and scheduled a last-minute trip to Iowa, a journey that Gore eventually made with Dean after announcing his endorsement of the former Vermont governor in New York City.
A senior aide in a rival campaign indicated that the New Hampshire invitees were led to believe that Bradley would announce his endorsement of Dean at the event, scheduled for the Executive Court Banquet Facility in Manchester. Bradley could not be immediately located for comment, and a call with one of his former top aides was not returned in the early-morning hours.
In winning Bradley's support, Dean would not only garner the backing of a candidate who nearly won the New Hampshire primary in the last campaign, but also a candidate like himself who made expanding health insurance for Americans a central theme of his campaign.
Not only is Bradley a popular figure in Democratic circles, but the former professional basketball player and one-time Rhodes Scholar also has lucrative fund-raising contacts in greater New York, where he has been working as an investment banker and management consultant. Last year he also was appointed to the board of directors of the Starbucks Coffee Co.
Like Bradley, too, Dean started his campaign as a longshot for the nomination, the outgoing governor of a relatively small state. In Bradley's case, he was a retired senator who, despite running against a sitting vice president with the support of most Democratic establishment figures, pulled ahead of Gore in public opinion polls around Labor Day of 1999. He was leading Gore in New Hampshire primary exit polls before an 11th-hour, get-out-the-vote effort by the vice president's backers propelled the eventual nominee to a 52 percent to 47-percent victory.
In a recent interview with sfpolitics.com, a California website devoted to politics, Bradley said of Dean: "I think Howard Dean has the strongest free media presence (of the Democratic contenders) and he has managed to broaden that to a broader protest and critique of the Bush administration, and the last things he got to do, he has to be able to broaden that to a broader agenda, more than simply anti-war. And he has to have an aspirational component to what he is saying so that people will feel that they are empowered by him to be as good as they can possibly be.''
Bradley added: "(Dean) has used technology exceedingly well. He could be the beneficiary of a tremendous yearning for grassroots expression and for people finding a voice that is heard, and if that develops as it has up to now, and accelerates, then I think that it will be an extremely important phenomenon in this country.''
The endorsement would also provide a last-minute tweak to Dean's main rival in New Hampshire, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. His New Hampshire campaign is led by former governor Jeanne Shaheen and her husband, William, and aided by former Gore aide Michael J. Whouley of Boston's Dewey Square Group. All three of them were credited with Bradley's last-minute defeat in New Hampshire.
Asked about Kerry by sfpolitics.com, Bradley said only: "Well, let's go on.''
As the Bradley event shows, Dean's schedule in the days leading up to the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses and Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary remains a work in progress. Today he is scheduled to attend events in New Hampton and Charles City, Iowa, before flying to Fargo, N.D., for a town hall meeting. He had been scheduled to return to Muscatine, Iowa, in the early evening, but aides said late Sunday that schedule was in flux.
After the Tuesday debate, Dean was also scheduled to fly home to Burlington, Vt., for a day of rest. Late Sunday, aides said Dean might remain in Iowa on Wednesday for a previously unscheduled day of campaigning.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.