Governor Dean Attends Town Hall Meetings During New Hampshire Campaign
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
Dean seemed more subdued during Thursday's campaign events, including this one at the Claremont Opera House.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/23/2004 12:15:09 AM ET 2004-01-23T05:15:09

The Howard Dean I saw at the Claremont, N.H., Opera House on Thursday afternoon was a different candidate than the one I saw in Iowa and New Hampshire in the summer and fall.

Sounding fatigued and afflicted with hoarseness, Dean delivered his stump speech in a subdued manner, his pacing far slower than last summer.

Interspersed through the speech were admissions from Dean that he had made blunders in the campaign.

“I’m not a perfect person,” he admitted to a crowd of about 300, most of whom were still committed Dean supporters, shouting out “Yeah!” and “Right!” throughout his speech.

A bit later, he told the crowd, “I may wear the wrong suits and I may say the wrong thing, but you are always going to know who I am and what I believe in.”

The Dean supporters were determined despite his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and his election night histrionics, which included the now-legendary scream heard on cable news stations and talk radio across America since Monday night.

He opened his speech by telling the crowd his hoarseness was “not because of the Iowa screech.”

And he said, “New Hampshire has a habit of reversing Iowa.”

Despite his restrained, almost grim demeanor, Dean’s Thursday performance retained some of old Dean trademarks.

He likes to compare the current economic and political environment to the William McKinley years of the 1890s and for good measure adds Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the list of Republican villains.

“Calvin Coolidge said ‘the business of American is business.’ He forgot about America’s soul. Franklin Roosevelt came along and made sure we were all connected … all responsible for each other,” Dean said.

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But even as Dean implied a comparison between himself and FDR, he made it in a somber voice, starkly different from jauntily optimistic Roosevelt rhetoric of the New Deal.

As Dean used to do in his more exuberant days last summer and fall, he included plenty of derisive references to President Bush.

'This president has no idea'
“This president has no idea what he is doing,” he snapped at one point, referring to cuts in federal arts funding.

He accused Bush of sparking resentment of the United States by humiliating European countries that had disagreed with the Iraq war. “If we had a president as good as the American people — they wouldn’t think of us the way they do,” he contended.

Among the committed Dean fans, there’s a resentment of the news media’s portrayal of him and a fear that perhaps his handlers will try to mute the trademark abrasiveness that made him popular. During the question-and-answer period, one woman among the Dean supporters arrayed on stage at the Opera House, said, “Thank you for being the authentic person you really are.” As for critics and make-over artists, she said, “Don’t listen to them, Howard.”

Thinking outside the box
Even though he has repeatedly pledged to support the party’s nominee, whoever he may be, Dean seemed to drop a hint that he is thinking outside the box of the established two-party system: After calling for the abolition of the Federal Election Commission, which is composed of two Democratic and two Republican members, Dean said, “Loyalty to the Republican or Democratic Party should never replace loyalty to the United States of America.”

If Dean wins the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday, he has a future in the Democratic Party. But if he doesn’t win in New Hampshire, does Dean have a more promising future outside the party?

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