updated 2/4/2004 1:10:18 PM ET 2004-02-04T18:10:18

Fresh off a seven-state losing streak, Howard Dean predicted on Wednesday that he will win the Washington state caucuses, describing the race as “a fundamental disagreement about the very nature of what it means to be an American.”

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“Never in my lifetime have we faced as critical of a struggle over the heart and soul of this country and of this party,” Dean said. “We have never so badly needed a real change in leadership.”

The former front-runner has not even come close to winning any of the nine contests that have been held so far, including seven losses Tuesday. He said he is hoping for a better performance in the states that hold contests this weekend — Michigan and Washington state on Saturday, Maine on Sunday.

“We are going to win the Washington caucuses,” Dean said to a standing ovation from hundreds of supporters in a Seattle hotel ballroom.

Dean harkened back to the speech that launched his insurgent campaign to stardom a year ago. In twin speeches before Democrats in Washington and California last February, Dean asked why other Democratic candidates had supported President Bush’s tax cut, his education plan and the war in Iraq.

“I’m still waiting for the answers,” Dean said, uncharacteristically reading from a prepared script.

“Our economy is at risk, our international reputation is in disrepair,” Dean said. “The fabric of our society is being torn apart. These are not petty political differences to be papered over by gamesmanship in Washington, D.C. This is a fundamental disagreement about the very nature of what it means to be an American.”

Dean did not name any of his Democratic rivals, but said he is running against Democrats who have not stood up to Bush is the past. He was clearly taking a shot at front-runner John Kerry when he said change would not come from a senator who takes more lobbyist donations than any of his colleagues and who has only seen three bills of substance passed into law of the more than 300 that he’s introduced.

“Any Democrat is going to be an improvement over George Bush,” he said. “He’s the most far right radical president we’ve had in my lifetime. But the truth is, it’ll be more of the same.”

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