During the feisty first debate of the 2004 presidential election year, Howard Dean told fellow Democratic hopefuls on Sunday in Iowa that he would keep his gubernatorial records as governor of Vermont under seal to protect the identity of closeted gays, among others. In response to a Lieberman prod to open the records, Dean cited as a hypothetical example a letter that may have been written during the state's controversy over civil union legislation from a gay individual who didn't want his sexual orientation known. Lieberman readily agreed that letters like that should remain private but said, "That is an unsatisfactory and disappointing answer."
The debate also included jabs at Dean over trade, terror, taxes, and more. But Dean calmly dismissed his rivals as "co-opted by the agenda of George Bush." "I opposed the Iraq war when everyone else up here was for it," Dean said, invoking the issue that helped fuel his 2003 transformation from asterisk in the polls to front-runner. Dean's all-purpose rebuttal came midway through a debate 15 days before the Iowa caucuses, the first contest for national convention delegates who will select a Democratic challenger to President Bush.