- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

RACINE, Wis. — Howard Dean is trying to prove his presidential campaign can still be viable, but campaigning here in Wisconsin he seems to have lost most of the spark that lit a fire under crowds of thousands and, in a broader sense, under the entire Democratic presidential primary.

Though he says losing Tuesday’s primary here — which would make him 0-for-17 — won’t knock him out of the race, he doesn’t have any specific plans for how to continue.

Speaking in Racine yesterday to an audience that filled two-thirds of the 250 chairs in a cavernous civic center, Mr. Dean toned down his once-harsh criticisms of nominee front-runner Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards, the other major candidate in the race, saying only that he fears the result of a general election matchup between them and President Bush.

“My greatest fear in October is the president is going to say you supported me on the Patriot Act, you supported me on ‘No Child Left Behind,’ you supported me on the war. Why don’t you just support me for president?” Mr. Dean said.

He will get one last opportunity to make that case tonight, when the candidates hold what could be the final debate of the primary season in Milwaukee. It is probably too late, though; the latest polls show Mr. Kerry with at least 50 percent support among Democratic voters, far outpacing Mr. Dean.

But even as party leaders call for unity behind the front-runner, and as Mr. Dean’s own advisers reportedly suggest he should consider dropping out, the former Vermont governor’s supporters tell him to go on.

“You put the issues on the table,” one man told Mr. Dean.

Still, while most Democrats agree Mr. Dean raised the questions everyone is talking about, so far Mr. Kerry has seemed to be the preferred answer.

One Dean supporter, Marshall Stern, a campaign volunteer from Chicago who was in Racine yesterday, said Mr. Dean has allowed Mr. Kerry to take over the race by focusing too much on bashing Mr. Bush.

“Dean got us all angry at Bush, and I was too. I think I’m starting to get over that now. Everybody is. He’s starting to look pathetic,” Mr. Stern, 48, an actor, said. But he said Mr. Kerry now is the one benefiting from that anger, even though he would be a poor substitute for Mr. Dean.

“If you vote for Kerry you’re voting for the man who never stood up to Bush,” Mr. Stern said.

He said if Mr. Kerry wins the nomination he will vote for Mr. Bush in the general election. Mr. Bush, he said, “woke all of us up” and unified Democrats to oppose him while Mr. Kerry would give Democrats the false impression they had voted for a change.

Mr. Kerry campaigned in Las Vegas yesterday, which was holding caucuses, before returning to Wisconsin for a Democratic Party dinner last night. Mr. Edwards also was scheduled to attend the dinner. Earlier in the day, campaigning around the state, the North Carolina senator continued his attack on Mr. Bush.

“He lives this privileged existence, sheltered from the rest of the world,” Mr. Edwards said in Madison. “He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in real people’s lives.”

Mr. Dean did not attend yesterday’s dinner, instead flying home to watch his son’s hockey game in Burlington, Vermont.

For now, Mr. Dean’s campaign has no firm plans about what to do after Tuesday’s primary. After initially saying Wisconsin was a make-or-break state for him, Mr. Dean has said he wants to go on no matter what the outcome.

The crowd in Racine yesterday got a vision of one continuing role Mr. Dean could play in the party even if he does drop out.

Mr. Dean said he wants to try to identify 20 or 25 close congressional races and to call on his list of 600,000 identified supporters and others to contribute to the Democratic candidates’ campaigns. Last year he launched a similar campaign for Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, Iowa Democrat, and raised $68,000 in two days.

“What we want to do is identify those races that are going to be close that we can make a difference in,” Mr. Dean said.

Even those Democrats who aren’t planning to support Mr. Dean said they thank him for his role in the primary.

“It’s more interesting than it’s been in years,” said Mary Akgulian, who is leaning toward voting for Mr. Kerry.

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