WASHINGTON (AP) – He wasn’t even on the Sunday talk shows, but Howard Dean got plenty of air time as his Democratic rivals for the White House took aim at the former Vermont governor.

Louie Meizlish
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is leading the pack of Democrats hoping to take on President Bush next November. He met with voters at a picnic Saturday in Chichester, N.H.(AP PHOTO)

“Howard Dean has zero experience in international affairs,” said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The presidency is not the place for on-the-job training in this new security world,” he said.

Dean has opened up a wide lead over Kerry – by more than 20 points – in the latest poll in New Hampshire, a key state because of its Jan. 27 primary. Dean had been trailing Kerry earlier this year.

Kerry dismissed the new numbers, saying, “I’m not concerned about it.” He added, “Summertime is not when presidential races are won.”

Dean aides said their candidate is gaining ground and that must be making Kerry nervous.

White House hopeful Joe Lieberman also had Dean in the political crosshairs. The Connecticut senator said Dean is not the candidate to take on President Bush: “I worry that he cannot win.”

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Lieberman also accused Dean of flip-flopping on some of his positions. “He’s got to let the American people know exactly where he stands,” said Lieberman.

This week, Kerry – who’s been campaigning for months now – officially kicks off his presidential run with appearances in Charleston, S.C., and Des Moines, Iowa.

Ahead of the formal announcement, the decorated Navy veteran who served in Vietnam called for adding 40,000 more active duty troops to the military.

“We need two additional divisions in our military for the time being because of the threats in the world,” said Kerry.

According to his campaign, about half the troops would be for combat; the other half would be for post-conflict capabilities, such as military police and civil affairs.

“We cannot have a military that is as strapped and as stretched as the one we have today,” said Kerry.

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