DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt nurtured his already solid ties to organized labor Saturday, building on a constituency that could make the difference in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses.

Gephardt rallied with Teamsters president James Hoffa, collected the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and said his close ties with labor are crucial to Iowa's organization-driven caucuses.

Hoffa said he met Saturday with shop stewards from around the state. ``We put a game plan into effect,'' Hoffa said. ``We're going to go city by city, local by local so every member of the Teamsters is on board.''

Hoffa said Gephardt has spent a quarter-century advocating labor causes in Washington.

``We have never been so committed to a candidate for president,'' Hoffa said.

Teamsters political coordinators from around the country are in Iowa to bolster Gephardt's effort.

``I feel optimistic that we can win here,'' Gephardt said. ``I feel optimistic that we can do what we're trying to do here. The momentum is building.''

While the share of the work force represented by labor has declined, unions remain an important voting group. Union households accounted for 26 percent of the vote in 2000, and they are even more important in Iowa's caucuses, where one-third of those who show up are expected to be from union households.

Labor's organizational muscle can be vital to delivering backers to precinct caucuses, which require a far higher level of commitment than traditional primaries.

The numbers make the case. Iowa has more than 526,000 registered Democrats, but roughly 100,000 are expected to show up for the caucuses. Gephardt claims to have been endorsed by unions representing 50,000 Iowans.

Besides delivering members to caucuses, unions have the networks to identify and deliver other backers, and that effort is already under way.

``We've got people out here from the various unions working their membership,'' said Gephardt. ``That gives me optimism that we're going to do well.''

Most polls have shown Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean bunched closely together atop the field of Democratic contenders.

On Jan. 19, activists will gather in nearly 2,000 precincts to argue politics, elect precinct captains and publicly declare their preference for the Democratic nomination.

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WASHINGTON _ The Dean campaign lashed out Saturday at what it called the ``Gephardt-Kerry Washington tag team.''

An article on The New York Times Web site suggested an alliance of sorts between Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry _ against Howard Dean.

The two men appeared friendly at the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night in Phoenix. Aides to Kerry and Gephardt both say there's no orchestrated conspiracy, the Times reported, but they acknowledged that their staffs are sharing information on Dean.

For example, the paper said, late last month both campaigns issued press releases, within minutes of one another, about a newspaper story that was critical of the former Vermont governor. The Times quoted senior Gephardt adviser Steve Elmendorf as saying he had been in touch with Kerry's people about the anti-Dean column.

Dean's campaign said it showed Kerry and Gephardt are desperate.

``It's no secret that campaigns talk to each other, but these coordinated attacks from Washington insiders cross the line,'' said Tricia Enright, Dean's communications director.

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DES MOINES, Iowa _ Dennis Kucinich on Saturday detailed his plan to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and put the United Nations in charge of rebuilding the country.

``I believe that people across this country want us to get out of Iraq, that they want to end the occupation, that they are beside themselves at spending (more money) to continue the occupation,'' said Kucinich.

The Ohio representative said he will vote next week against President Bush's $87 billion spending request for military operations and for rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kucinich's plan calls for the United States to hand over administrative and security responsibilities to the United Nations, allowing it to take control of the country's oil assets on behalf of the people of Iraq. He said he would eliminate private contracts for rebuilding the country.

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WARNER, N.H. _ John Kerry kept up his attack on the way the Bush administration has handled the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

``This administration is making America less safe, not more safe, with its blustering, arrogant, unilateral foreign policy that is losing us respect and influence in the world,'' he said.

Kerry said the best way to protect U.S. troops in Iraq is to ``reduce the sense of American occupation of another country and take the target off of our people and get their hands out of your taxpayers' pockets and share this burden with the rest of the world.''

The Bush administration should work to give civil authority in Iraq to the United Nations or other countries, Kerry said.

``If we don't share that authority, they won't share the risk and they won't share monetary burden,'' he said.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer C. Kerr in Washington, Amy Lorentzen in Des Moines, Iowa, and David Tirrell-Wysocki in Warner, N.H., contributed to this story.