Sunday, January 18, 2004

When an Endorsement Isn't an Endorsement … It's Just a Photo Op -Will Iowans Bite?
"Anybody here from Iowa?" President Carter inquired. Spotting two near the rear of the sanctuary, he asked: "You going to be home tomorrow night?"

It was a poignant reminder of Dr. Dean's unusual choice to spend the final day before Iowa's caucuses 1,000 miles away in a town of 716 people who will not have their say in the Democratic nomination process until Georgia's primary on March 2.

Dr. Dean said last week that he was skipping 20 of the last 48 hours in the Iowa campaign because "when the former president of the United States asks you to go to church with him on the Sunday before caucuses, I think you probably take that up." But Mr. Carter said today that the visit had actually been Dr. Dean's idea and that he hoped all the Democratic candidates would make the pilgrimage to Plains "to kind of heal wounds and show that we can all worship together."

"I didn't invite him," the former president, wearing a bolo tie, told reporters and parishioners as he entered the church this morning. "He called me on the phone and said he'd like to come worship with me."

It was a coincidence, Mr. Carter said, that he was teaching from Job, which Dr. Dean has cited as his favorite Bible book.

"After I won in Iowa, I realized what Job was talking about," President Carter said. "It seemed like everybody descended on me with all kinds of abuse and accusations. And I felt like I was innocent, too."

After church, Dr. Dean stood with President Carter on the Main Street of Plains, where faded American flags flap in front of the red, green and beige brick facades of antique and memorabilia shops. As promised, Mr. Carter did not offer an endorsement, but did refer to him as a friend and "fellow Christian," praising his "courageous and outspoken posture." The two men shook hands, but did not raise them in the traditional politicians' pose.


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