- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Howard Dean dropped out of the Democratic presidential race yesterday, ending a roller-coaster quest for the White House that saw the Vermont liberal plunge from front-runner to 17 straight losses in less than a month.

But the fiery former governor, whose meteoric candidacy was fueled by the anti-Iraq war protest movement, said he would keep the central purposes of his campaign alive through a permanent activist organization based on his army of grass-roots supporters.

“I am no longer actively pursuing the presidency,” Mr. Dean told cheering, flag-waving supporters at a news conference in Burlington, Vt., where his campaign began more than two years ago. “We will, however, continue the effort to transform the Democratic Party and to change our country.”

Ruling out a third-party or independent candidacy and reassuring Democrats that he intended to support the party nominee, Mr. Dean, nonetheless, said he and his supporters intended to remain a political force in the party for years to come.

“We are not going away. We’re staying together unified all of us,” he said, though vowing to “continue to campaign for change” in the party’s ruling establishment.

“The bottom line is that we must beat George W. Bush in November, whatever it takes,” he said.

Mr. Dean not only made it clear that he intended to play a major role in that campaign, he said he had not given up his crusade to change his party from within.

“There is enormous institutional pressure in Washington against change, in the Democratic Party against change,” he said. “Yet, you have already started to change the party, and together we have transformed this race. The fight that we began can and must continue.”

He declined to endorse either of his chief rivals, although both Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards have been courting him aggressively for weeks. He said he had called both men to tell them of his decision.

Both praised Mr. Dean and his campaign, with Mr. Edwards saying the ex-governor “has energized and revolutionized this race, and excited a whole new generation of young people.”

While campaigning in Ohio, Mr. Kerry told reporters, “It’s impossible not to express admiration and respect for the campaign that he’s put together and what he’s achieved.”

The decision to withdraw from the contest after failing to win even one of the 17 primaries and caucuses was not unexpected, although he had sent signals that he might continue battling through the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2.

But after his poor third-place showing in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Mr. Dean decided to take the advice of numerous Democratic officials, including his former national campaign chairman, Steve Grossman, that the time had come to bow out gracefully and focus on the campaign against Mr. Bush in the fall.

After nearly 12 years as a little-known governor of a tiny New England state, Mr. Dean began his campaign with a small staff, little money but with a powerful message of attacking party leaders for not standing up to Mr. Bush’s agenda and the Iraq war to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime — a message that excited the party’s dispirited activist base.

He had campaigned quietly across the country for more than two years, attacking the party’s establishment and Mr. Bush with equal vigor, building a grass-roots army over the Internet that helped him raise a record $41 million.

By the time Mr. Kerry began campaigning in New Hampshire in earnest last year, Mr. Dean already had made more than 40 trips into the state.

Dean advisers say his campaign caught fire when he appeared at a candidate forum here at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting last February.

After several of his rivals had spoken, receiving relatively polite receptions, Mr. Dean came out and lit into them for voting for the Iraq war resolution. He ended a litany of attacks with his signature line, “I’m Howard Dean, and I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

The packed hall exploded with thunderous applause and cheers and the Dean revolution, seen by millions on the C-SPAN cable network, had begun with a roar.

By year’s end, polls showed Mr. Dean with a seemingly insurmountable 40 percent lead in New Hampshire and pulling away in Iowa. Time and Newsweek ran cover stories on him, and former Vice President Al Gore and two of the country’s biggest unions endorsed him.

Then, after a series of gaffes and growing questions about his volatile temper, the Dean boom collapsed last month and Democrats swiftly rallied around Mr. Kerry, who was seen as far more electable.

But yesterday, Democrats were praising the political legacy he had left behind and the hundreds of thousands of new activists he had brought into the party.

“The people behind Dean have made a resolution of sorts in politics in the last year,” said Roger Hickey, co-chairman of the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal activist group.

“He filled the race with drama and taught all the other candidates how to speak bluntly without a lot of equivocation. Kerry is a better candidate because of him,” Mr. Hickey said.

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