- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Howard Dean, whose once-high-flying presidential candidacy has gone down in flames, now must rally his antiwar supporters to help the Democrats beat President Bush in November, party strategists said yesterday.

The feisty former governor of Vermont, who was the front-runner and odds-on choice to be the Democratic nominee going into 2004, has yet to win a single primary or caucus contest. But he remains one of his party’s most politically valuable candidates because of his popularity among a large and fiercely loyal army of Democratic activists — many of them new to politics — who rallied behind his early opposition to the Iraq war and gave him a $40 million war chest to spend.

After losing another key primary last night in Wisconsin, finishing a distant third, Democrats say it is time for Mr. Dean to fold his candidacy and get behind front-runner John Kerry, the presumptive nominee. But some of his closest advisers said last night they expect him to continue his candidacy in the coming weeks as he searches for a new and influential role in the party and the general election.

“That role can take a number of forms. It will take a while for him to figure out the way to do that,” said Steve Grossman, former national chairman of the Dean campaign who left that post earlier this week.

Yet other Dean supporters who have talked with the candidate in recent days describe him as having a difficult time deciding what his next course of action will be after last night.

“He doesn’t want to let his supporters down by dropping out right now. They stood by him, and he’s willing to stay in for a while longer to fight their fight,” one adviser said.

After his loss to Mr. Kerry in Wisconsin last night, Mr. Dean began preparing his exit strategy and took credit for much of the Democratic Party’s platform.

“You have already written the platform of the Democratic Party for the convention,” he said, listing the war in Iraq, health care and education reform as major issues on which the Democratic Party has diverged from President Bush’s leadership.

Mr. Dean has said repeatedly during his campaign that he will support the eventual nominee if he should not be successful, but he also has raised troubling questions about whether his army of supporters would be willing to follow anyone else.

“I don’t know where they’re going to go, but they’re certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician,” Mr. Dean told reporters in December, adding that his support was “not transferrable.”

But other Democrats said they fully expect that Mr. Dean eventually would get behind the nominee and that he would be asked to play a major role in the party’s campaign.

“I think it would be a huge mistake for Howard Dean to just disappear and fade away. This is a guy who came from nowhere and lifted the Democratic Party up when it was dying and helped to energize it,” said Donna Brazile, manager of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

“In the end, Howard will do the right thing by the Democratic Party. He has hundreds of thousands of supporters and donors. He’s right to talk to them about whether he should quit. He has so many options,” she said.

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