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January 21, 2004
The Suddenly Rudderless Dean

Howard Dean, still smarting from the thumping he took in Iowa this week, shifted strategies for the second time in two weeks, according to the Washington Post:

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean shifted his campaign strategy Tuesday to emphasize domestic issues over the war and temper the red-faced outbursts like the one he delivered after losing Iowa, the candidate and his advisers said. Dean, after huddling with top aides to regroup from the stinging loss in the Iowa caucuses, sought to portray himself here as a more traditional policy-minded candidate focused on education, health care and jobs. The front-runner for much of the 2004 Democratic campaign suggested he would ease up on his year-long crusade to change the Democratic Party. ...

Dean's strategy shift, the second in as many weeks, comes as the onetime front-runner is fighting to regain momentum. A loss in New Hampshire could signal the beginning of the end of a campaign that only weeks ago seemed almost invincible, Democratic strategists say, though Dean has vowed to stay in the race until the end of the primaries.

Last week, Dean tried shifting down the rhetoric, thinking that his drop in the polls during the past month may have meant that the "red meat" schtick had worn a bit thin. In the aftermath of the debacle, he reverted to type, engaging in a display that has been compared to everything from an inappropriate high-schoolish pep rally to primal-scream therapy -- which perhaps he needed Monday night. Now, even if the previous angry-man persona worked before, questions about his temperament were so universal after Monday's display that to continue using that persona risks cementing an image of lunacy that has already begun to be hinted at by opponents.

Dean has six days in which to undo the damage done to his status as frontrunner and image as an inevitability for the nomination before the first primary. As the article states, Dean has plenty of funding left for a nationwide campaign, while John Kerry is so cash-poor at the moment that he's mortgaging his half of the family house in order to keep the doors open in New Hampshire. John Edwards is also rolling the dice in the Granite State. Neither are running any ads at all in the first Super-Tuesday run of states scheduled for February 3. If Dean wins New Hampshire decisively, he could starve Kerry and Edwards of any significant funding. If Dean loses, especially if he loses as badly as he did in Iowa, his funding won't matter; his credibility as a candidate will be shot, just as Gephardt's was Monday night.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 21, 2004 5:54 AM

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