The Boston Globe today paints a picture of a campaign that has lost all forward momentum and awaits one final, terrible blow to put it out of its misery:
Though the former Vermont governor, who for months led polls in the race for the Democratic nomination, says he will continue campaigning regardless of the results of the Wisconsin primary — which polls indicate he is likely to lose by a significant margin — his actions are beginning to say otherwise.
His calendar for next week is not booked beyond Wednesday, when he plans to return home to Burlington, Vt. … Turning serious, he told a group of reporters who joined him on a dairy farm tour: “I’m going to go back to Burlington and kind of regroup and figure out how to tackle 10 of the biggest states in the country at the same time.”
Yet moments later, when asked if he would remain an official candidate heading into the March 2 “Super Tuesday” voting in those 10 states, Dean said, “I don’t know the answer to that question yet.”
The article describes skeleton crews manning silent phones at Dean’s headquarters in Burlington, and staffers who openly discuss vacation plans and almost as openly debate the merits of working for other campaigns. In polls leading into Wisconsin’s Tuesday primary, Dean trails Kerry by 42 points, 53%-11%, and is being edged by Edwards for second place — barely — at 16%. In fact, as many people are undecided as are voting for Edwards, which only means that it may be a dogfight as to who gets to lose better to the Kerry juggernaut.
Although he may not acknowledge it, Dean’s campaign ran aground in Iowa when he finished a distant third behind Kerry and Edwards, and he sealed his fate with his weird performance in the aftermath. With his temperament a continuous question, as well as his judgment and his foot-in-mouth speaking tendencies, Dean managed to crystallize all of these doubts into one singular, spectacular “Yeeaagh!” Muskie cried; Dukakis rode a tank; Dean held a pep rally. All that’s left for the Dean campaign is to decide when and where the corpse should actually lay down. That target keeps on moving. First, Washington’s caucuses were the threshold date, but that quickly changed to Wisconsin when polling numbers came back from the Pacific Northwest. Now Dean talks about Super Tuesday, but the parade has passed him by, and he knows it.
But of course, a much-subdued Dean still can’t resist displaying arrogance, even under these conditions, as an anecdote at the end of the article illustrates:
At one point, as the entourage swept past empty cattle stalls, Dean pointed to a deep gutter running the length of the barn — a trench for manure runoff. “Once when I was governor, I was on a dairy farm during campaign season,” Dean recalled. “So as I was walking around the corner and wasn’t looking what I was doing and — Whoosh! — and of course it was full.”
Turning to his media entourage, whom he branded “city slickers,” he said: “For those of you who don’t know anything about dairy, this is a manure trench, and it’s not good to step in it in loafers.”
Well, Farmer Dean, the press may not know a lot about dairy, but they sure know manure when they see it. And it seems an odd thing to warn the press about stepping in it, when Dean’s been doing that, figuratively speaking, since December.