Howard Dean's day off

Howard Dean's day off

Howard Dean's day off

Dispatches from Campaign 2004.
Jan. 28 2004 12:39 AM

Howard Dean's Day Off

Is the governor going underground after New Hampshire?

HOOKSETT, N.H.—Howard Dean is going to Arizona! He's going to New Mexico! He's going to Michigan! And Washington! And Burlington?

Every major Democratic presidential candidate except Howard Dean will campaign Wednesday in one of the Feb. 3 states (Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina). Front-running John Kerry heads to St. Louis for a rally, while John Edwards goes to Springfield, Mo., and St. Louis. Wesley Clark travels to Charleston, S.C., Joe Lieberman is doing three events in Delaware (not "Joeklahoma"?), and Dennis Kucinich will stump in Oklahoma. But Dean is going to rest up and regroup at campaign headquarters in Vermont. He's not taking the day off—he's going to do television interviews with local stations in key February states—but the decision indicates that the Dean campaign may be looking past Feb. 3 in its quest for the nomination after a second-place finish in New Hampshire.

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The campaign won't out-and-out admit that it's looking past Feb. 3, of course. The current spin: We've raised $1.5 million in the past week. We have a 50-state organization. But what good did their money and their organization do them in Iowa and New Hampshire? From another perspective, it looks as if the campaign isn't sure what to do right now. Every staffer that I talked to Tuesday night didn't know his or her next destination. New Hampshire communications director Dorie Clark told me she was moving out of her Manchester apartment, putting her stuff in storage, and ready to take her duffle bag wherever they told her to go. They just hadn't told her yet.

But there may be a strategic motivation for going into hiding. At the Holiday Inn bar in Manchester Monday night, Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi told reporters that Dean just needed to hang around long enough until voters got tired of John Kerry. Then, he hoped, those voters would start coming back to Dean. He cited the example of Jerry Brown winning Colorado in the 1992 campaign after voters tired of Bill Clinton. (He then insisted that his candidate was not Jerry Brown.) The assumption had been that Dean was going to go fight in Arizona and New Mexico, but Trippi sounded like a man who was managing expectations in preparation for a potential goose egg on Feb. 3. (Many people think Dean has a better shot on Feb. 7 in Washington and Michigan.)

It's not an insane idea. Sit back, husband your resources, and pray that John Kerry can defeat John Kerry in time to give you a chance on March 3, when huge states like California, New York, and Ohio weigh in. Dean's support in Iowa and New Hampshire turned out to be very soft, and Kerry's support is likely to be soft, too. Now that Kerry is the front-runner, he's going to start receiving a lot more scrutiny from the press, which Dean hopes will damage Kerry's perceived electability. Plus there's the theory that Kerry is a candidate who wears poorly on voters.

The last two Democrats to win both Iowa and New Hampshire were Al Gore in 2000 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Dean's best hope is that the Kerry campaign is closer to that of the Democrat who won both states four years before Carter: Edmund Muskie. The problem with that hope is that the second-place finishers in New Hampshire who ended up as the "perceived winner"—Eugene McCarthy in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, and Bill Clinton in 1992—all finished within single digits of their opponent. Dean lost by 13 points.

Wesley Clark's third-place finish in New Hampshire also looks likely to hurt Dean's chances. Of the 35 percent of New Hampshire voters who cast ballots for a candidate other than Dean or Kerry, the 13 percent who went for Clark are the largest trove of likely Dean voters. The longer Clark stays in the race as a serious contender, the longer the antiwar vote is divided.

So, it's a long shot, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe has ordered candidates who don't win a state on Feb. 3 to quit the race. (At the Holiday Inn, Trippi virtually promised to ignore McAuliffe.) But it's probably Dean's only shot. Will the voters who dated Dean, then married Kerry get bored enough that they start to fantasize again about sleeping with Dean?