The Note

Yes, it's about the battle for the pie of liberal and independent Democrat voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that Kerry and Dean must somehow split.

(It's official: Dean is the frontrunner of the Democratic presidential pack, per the New York Post 's Deborah Orin. LINK He's got momentum in the polls. He's got cash. He understands the Internet. He's leading — though to be conservative, we'll say at least tied — in both Iowa and New Hampshire. A national Zogby poll puts him tied nationally with Senator Lieberman. He's got true believers behind him.

Jim Jordan's comment du jour is delish:

"'Ultimately, voters are going to decide a small-town physician from a small and atypical state is probably not qualified to lead this nation in a dangerous world.'" )

And here we go.

Policy-wide, it's a battle of priorities — health care coverage versus income and spending money.

It's also a battle to see which candidate can connect with Democrats for whom the manufacturing sector's decline is the big obstacle in their life. Senators Edwards and Lieberman, among others, have recently tailored their economic messages to address that concern.

The Des Moines Register Notes: "Before Dean could speak, Bill Burton, the Iowa spokesman for Gephardt, accused Dean of lifting part of his economic plan from Gephardt." LINK Here's the AP's Mike Glover, who brings us the tick-tock:

"In remarks on the economy in Iowa and New Hampshire, the primary foes rushed to criticize each other, even if it meant upstaging their own speeches. Kerry fired the first salvo." LINK

"'There are some Democrats running around who think the way to start the economy up is to tax people at the bottom of the income scale … they're prepared to tax a teacher or a waitress' income. I'm not,' the Massachusetts senator said to a crowd at a waterfront park in Dover, N.H."

"Kerry's speech did not mention Dean by name, but aides made sure the speech was provided to the media before Dean addressed the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union in Iowa. Contacted for a response, the former Vermont governor said: 'Real Democrats don't make promises they can't keep.'"

"'Working Americans have a choice,' Dean said. 'They can have the president's tax cuts or they can have health care that can't be taken away. They can't have both.'"

"Kerry, asked in Dover whether he meant to engage Dean, said he only wanted to 'point out the differences.'"

"'He's saying Democrats didn't do this,' Kerry said. 'So I'm going to respond and make sure people understand that real Democrats don't raise taxes on teachers and waitresses. Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class.'"

Middle-class tax relief is as hard to miss as a Clintonian evocation. Then again, so is deficit reduction, at least for some Democrats.

The Kerry campaign will say that Governor Dean wants to balance the budget on the backs of working families and accuse him of austerity.

Dean responds by saying that most Americans would rather go back to paying the same taxes they did in the Clinton era if only they were relieved of part of the burden of paying for health care.

He gambles that Americans will set aside their revulsion toward the appearance of tax increases to trust that, as president, he'd be able to expand health coverage, reduce premiums, fund special education, and the like.

Dean told Iowa reporters that Kerry's tax cuts were too expensive and would crowd out spending for health care and other programs.

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