updated 1/30/2004 9:01:50 AM ET 2004-01-30T14:01:50

How can a presidential contender spend $40 million and not have any victories?

That’s the question Howard Dean now confronts. Dean, who has fallen well behind Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in Demo Derby’s current ranking, is at risk of becoming the John Connally of the 2004 campaign.

Connally, the Democrat-turned-Republican who served as Treasury Secretary under President Nixon and ran for the GOP nomination in 1980, was the last contender to raise the most money in the year prior to an election and yet not win his party’s nomination.

Kerry's lead over Dean was strengthened Friday with the release of a set of new MSNBC/Reuters Zogby polls in four of the states that vote next Tuesday.

According to Zogby's surveys, Kerry dominates in Missouri, with 45 percent. Running a distant second in that state is North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 11 percent. If these numbers hold, Kerry could sweep all 74 of Missouri's delegates.

In another key Tuesday primary state, Arizona, Kerry holds a 21-point lead over retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

In Thursday night’s MSNBC debate, Dean asserted that Kerry had little to show for his years in the Senate, but Dean did nothing to rattle Kerry’s magnanimous front-runner demeanor. Unflustered by Dean, Kerry spent his debate time attacking President Bush.

On Wednesday, Dean jettisoned his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, and hired as campaign “CEO” Roy Neel, a former aide to Al Gore who has worked as a lobbyist for the U.S. Telephone Association.

With his new CEO at the helm, which of next Tuesday’s seven primaries and caucuses will Dean win?

If the answer turns out to be “none,” how he can continue as a contender for the nomination?

As of Thursday, Dean did have more delegates to the Democratic National Convention than Kerry.

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But with contests in seven states on Tuesday, Dean’s campaign faces a credibility crisis.

Remember, this was the campaign that said it would turn out millions of new voters for Dean.

This is the candidate who issued a not-so-veiled threat that if he weren’t the nominee, many of his supporters would boycott the election, rather than vote for any other Democratic nominee.

“If they can’t beat us, how the hell are they going to beat George Bush, Karl Rove, and $200 million?” Trippi asked back in early January.

Kerry beat Dean in Iowa and New Hampshire. Edwards beat Dean in Iowa. And unless something changes quickly, Zogby poll data indicates that Kerry will beat Dean in Arizona, Missouri, and perhaps other states that vote on Tuesday.

So Trippi’s challenge has been stood on its head: if Dean can’t beat Kerry and Edwards, why should Democratic voters believe he can beat Bush?

Grass-roots efforts failed
Dean’s grass-roots voter turnout efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire were failures. That — and not the notorious “scream” — is the most significant story so far of the primary season.

Not surprisingly, some of Dean’s former allies are now going public with their doubts.

“We will be looking very closely to the elections that will take place [next Tuesday] … to ascertain if he is a viable candidate or not," New York City political boss Dennis Rivera told the Daily News Editorial Board on Wednesday. Rivera, the head of the city’s hospital workers union, had been an enthusiastic Dean supporter only a few weeks ago.

"What has been coming at us, screaming from the victories of Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire, is the issue of electability," Rivera told the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Kerry stayed ahead of Dean in the momentum game Thursday by pocketing the endorsement of South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the state’s most powerful black leader. Kerry now has a better chance to win next Tuesday’s South Carolina primary, where 45 delegates are at stake.

Zogby's poll shows Kerry and Edwards statistically tied in South Carolina, a state Edwards has said he needs to win.

New Mexico’s primary on Tuesday should be a natural for Dean — he has had campaign staff on the ground there since the beginning of September.

But Dean campaign strategist Steve McMahon cautioned a few hours before the votes were counted in New Hampshire Tuesday night, “It would be a mistake to obsess on the Feb. 3 contests.”

Conclusions will be drawn
Obsess about them, no. Draw conclusions from them? Yes.

Clark, who invested heavily in New Hampshire and garnered a mere 12 percent of the vote there, also badly needs a win somewhere on Tuesday. Perhaps his best chance is in Oklahoma, where Zogby's Friday poll shows him leading Kerry by eight percentage points.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman has invested time and effort in 15-delegate Delaware, which also votes Tuesday. A win there seems mandatory for him; but even with a win, it is hard to see a scenario where he roars to the front of the pack.


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