WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts picked up a key endorsement by his formal arch-rival Thursday at a rally kicking off a day of events to boost both Democratic unity and the party's coffers.
In a rally at George Washington University, former Democratic front-runner Howard Dean threw his support behind Kerry, telling his followers to vote for the senator from Massachusetts.
"In the end it's Generation Dean voting for John Kerry for the president of the United States that is going to send George Bush back to Texas where he belongs," Dean told the crowd.
Kerry would fight for progressive issues -- the environment, jobs, Social Security, health insurance, defense and a balanced budget -- "because God knows you can't trust the Republicans," Dean said.
Kerry has one of the best records in Senate on environmental issues, Dean said. "That's why I'm voting for John Kerry and that's why I'm working for him," he told the crowd of nearly 3,000 students and faculty gathered for the rally.
Dean's endorsement was the last of the former Democratic candidates, coming a week after he announced the establishment of Democracy for America to work for the progressive agenda.
As such, it marked the Democratic Party's unprecedented solidarity behind their candidate, who eight months out from the general election has enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination. Dean's endorsement was also long in coming, nearly five weeks after he dropped out of the field and some two weeks after Dean and Kerry met to discuss his support.
As of Thursday, however, there was no word about whether Dean would release the 170-some delegates pledge to Dean to allow them to switch to Kerry.
Speaking before the rally audience Thursday, Kerry thanked Dean for his endorsement and praised him for a "conversation for America (that) Howard Dean began and the people now continue." Kerry told the crowd that he and Dean "are convinced we are going to give the country a dialogue about the future that you can be proud of."
"Who am I quoting?" Kerry asked his audience before pointing to the crowd and telling them, "You have the power," one of Dean's oft-repeated phrases.
In his speech, Kerry hit the main points of his campaign thus far -- the problems with jobs, healthcare, Social Security and Bush's defense policy -- and mentioned the environment, a pet issue of the progressives, more than ever before.
He also rolled out a new policy initiative calling on the nation's young people to dedicate themselves to public service, drawing parallels between himself and President Kennedy. This generation would be called on "as no generation has since President John F. Kennedy with his Peace Corps plan," he said.
Kerry said his plan would provide a $4,000 tax credit for in-state college tuition to high school graduates who spend two years working in their communities. "We're going to restore the nobility of public service," he said. "Change starts with you," he repeated throughout the end of his speech, the motto emblazoned on the T-shirts worn by the university students standing behind him.
Following the rally, Kerry picked up the endorsement of the International Executive Board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The AFSCME originally had thrown its support behind Dean, but withdrew it in early February when his campaign began faltering. Kerry picked up the nation's largest labor endorsement, from the 13-million member AFL-CIO, last month.
Kerry was to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Democratic National Committee's new national headquarters in the afternoon in an event expected to draw some of the most influential Democratic members of Congress.
At its headline event, a dinner featuring former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton along with Kerry and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee said it expected dozens of congressmen and senators to attend, along with current and former presidential candidates and nearly 1,800 Democratic supporters.
The Democratic National Committee has been outgunned by its Republican counterpart, just as Kerry has by President Bush. The DNC had $17.8 million on hand by March 1, while the Republican National Committee had $45.5 million. Bush has handily beat Kerry in fundraising, raising $159 million by the end of February vs. Kerry's $41 million.
The dinner, tickets for which range in price from $1,000 a piece to $25,000 for two, is expected to bring in nearly $11 million, DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera said.
Thursday marked Kerry's first day back on the campaign trail after a weeklong vacation in Idaho and the last day of his 10-day online fundraising initiative to raise $10 million. As of 2 p.m. Thursday the campaign had pulled in more than $9.9 million, putting it safely on track to reach its goal. Kerry embarks Monday on a six-week, 20-city fundraising tour. The trip, the first dedicated fundraising excursion of his campaign, turns Kerry's attention to what may be its greatest weakness against Bush.