Former Vermont governor Howard Dean shifted his campaign strategy Tuesday to emphasize domestic issues over the war and temper the red-faced outbursts like the one he delivered after losing Iowa, the candidate and his advisers said.
Dean, after huddling with top aides to regroup from the stinging loss in the Iowa caucuses, sought to portray himself here as a more traditional policy-minded candidate focused on education, health care and jobs. The front-runner for much of the 2004 Democratic campaign suggested he would ease up on his year-long crusade to change the Democratic Party.
"I started out this campaign with a sense that no Democrats were standing up for what Democrats ought to stand up for, that they would only stand up for things that were popular," Dean told reporters in his first news conference since finishing third in Iowa on Monday night.
"Now we have seen a significant change: [the other candidates] are standing for issues I think are important. This is a good opportunity for me to get back to the issues that got me into the race in the first place: balanced budgets, human services and a sense of community we don't seem to have anymore."
More businesslike approach
Dean's strategy shift, the second in as many weeks, comes as the onetime front-runner is fighting to regain momentum. A loss in New Hampshire could signal the beginning of the end of a campaign that only weeks ago seemed almost invincible, Democratic strategists say, though Dean has vowed to stay in the race until the end of the primaries.
"We need to win here in order to prove to people that their vote matters and that we can elect somebody who is not from Washington who is willing to stand up and say what's right instead of what's just popular," Dean said. Even if he loses here, Dean has the financial resources to carry on his campaign for several months, a top aide said.
Dean adopted a more businesslike approach one day after he shocked many Democrats by storming onto the stage in Iowa with arms flailing and face reddening to fire up a huge crowd of younger supporters. Dean ripped off his sports jacket and rolled up his sleeves before waving a wireless microphone at the audience and shouting his vow to continue his fight for the nomination, listing state after state where primaries are scheduled. Videotape of the appearance was replayed frequently on television Tuesday.
"I thought I owed them . . . passion," Dean said, explaining how he was simply feeding off the energy of 3,000 supporters gathered for the event.
Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, blamed the Iowa loss on the campaign's decision to engage in a negative fight with rival Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who dropped out of the race Tuesday. The harsh back-and-forth only reinforced worries among some Democratic voters that Dean lacks the temperament to win the White House, analysts said. Gephardt "almost wrecked our" campaign, Trippi said.
Yet polling data from Iowa suggests bigger problems for Dean, who built a campaign relying on young voters and opposition to the war in Iraq. Dean lost to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) among the 75 percent of Iowa voters who opposed the war. Kerry also beat Dean among the youngest voters. Dean said he has not analyzed polling data to determine whether other changes must be made.
Dean's advisers said angrily Monday night that Kerry and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) "stole" his populist, people-vs.-the-powerful campaign theme. But analysts note that winning presidential candidates frequently co-opt ideas, phrases and tones that resonate with voters. Some strategists said Dean is copying the optimistic and solution-oriented approach Democrats credited for Kerry's win in Iowa and Edwards's close second-place finish.
"Today, I am going to give a different kind of speech," he told supporters here. "Those of you who came here intending to be lifted by . . . a lot of red-meat rhetoric are going to be a little disappointed." Dean spent more than an hour highlighting his record as a five-term governor of Vermont, emphasizing his streak of balanced budgets. "We need a president who can manage money and think ahead." The message was similar to previous campaign speeches, but the tone more subdued.
Dean plans to use his huge fundraising advantage to dominate the airwaves in the final week and blend back into the field of five candidates competing hard to win here. Dean raised more than $40 million last year, a new party record, but he has spent it more liberally than rivals, so the next week could prove the biggest test yet of his ability to raise funds. On Tuesday, Dean asked supporters to pony up $1 million to win New Hampshire.
Dean has no plans to air any negative ads, including the one criticizing fellow Democrats for backing the war that backfired in Iowa, an aide said.
Early polls show Dean leading Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, but those surveys don't account for the Iowa results, so analysts said the race will probably tighten. A top Dean aide predicted Kerry will rocket into the lead as early as Wednesday, which could give Dean a breather from the relentless attacks from rivals, as the other candidates focus on Kerry and Clark.
A Dean adviser called Thursday night's debate the biggest of the campaign and one that could allow the former Vermont governor to regain his footing in New Hampshire.
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane in Washington contributed to this report.