Howard Dean shook up his campaign for the second time in just over two weeks, revealing that national chairman Steve Grossman is out, as John Kerry looked to cement his front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In a stunning disclosure to reporters in advance of an appearance in La Crosse, Wis., Dean said he had not talked to Grossman since publication of remarks in which Grossman said he expected the former Vermont governor to curtail his campaign if he fails to win in Wisconsin.
“I have not talked to him since this came out in the newspaper,” Dean said. “I’ll speak for the campaign.”
Grossman, in an interview with The Associated Press, said, “When Howard Dean says he’s not going to quit, what he means is the battle to restore democracy and citizen participation is long-term and he’s not going to quit on that battle.”
Just over two weeks ago, campaign manager Joe Trippi was ousted in the wake of Dean’s loss to Kerry in the New Hampshire primary. Dean at the time said he was giving Roy Neel, a longtime associate of former Vice President Al Gore, the top campaign position. Trippi said he couldn’t live with that, and he refused to accept a lower-echelon post.
Polls point to another win for Kerry on Tuesday in Wisconsin, which would give the four-term Massachusetts senator 15 victories, the lion’s share of delegates and a near-lock on the nomination. The same surveys look bleak for Dean.
Nonetheless, Kerry had said earlier that he would “do the work” necessary to win Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary, even though he has a hefty lead in the polls. Kerry emerged largely unscathed from Sunday night’s debate with rivals trying to make a likely last stand.
Dean and John Edwards were given several chances to criticize Kerry during the 90-minute face-off, but Edwards seemed more inclined than Dean to take advantage. “Not so fast,” he blurted out at one point when Kerry talked as if the race already had been decided and that it was time to focus on President Bush.
Dean in particular was uncharacteristically lenient on his leading rival. At one point, he rose to defend Kerry from Republican attacks that he is beholden to special interests, even though Dean himself has leveled similar charges.
“I think George Bush has some nerve attacking anybody about special interests,” the former Vermont governor said.
Dean on Monday continued to aim his fire at Bush, not Kerry.
Dean hangs on
“The principal difference between myself and George Bush is I believe we cannot continue as a divided society,” Dean told the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, criticizing the administration for what he called a too-harsh stance against Americans of Arab descent in n the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Dean, still winless after 16 Democratic nominating contests, has said he would make a stand in the Wisconsin primary but is trailing Kerry.
Some of his supporters are urging him to quit. But the former Vermont governor insisted Sunday, “We are not bowing out.”
Edwards also resisted suggestions that the contest is over.
“Not so fast, John Kerry,” the North Carolina senator said after his Massachusetts colleague declared he would beat Bush.
“We’re going to have an election here in Wisconsin this Tuesday. And we’ve got a whole group of primaries coming up. And I, for one, intend to fight with everything I’ve got for every one of those votes.”
Kerry, winner of 14 contests, said he’s prepared for GOP attacks. “I am ready for what they throw at me,” he said with all the confidence that he will win the nomination.
During the debate, Edwards challenged Kerry’s support of trade agreements that he said have cost jobs in Wisconsin. He also poked fun at Kerry’s long-winded response to a question about whether he felt partly responsible for the cost and casualties of the Iraq war after voting for it.
“That’s the longest answer I ever heard to a yes-or-no question,” Edwards said.
The North Carolina senator is in a slightly better position than Dean to survive a defeat Tuesday. While Dean is winless and losing credibility, Edwards won his native South Carolina and has impressed Democrats with a polished, upbeat style.
After vying in Wisconsin for its 72 delegates, the remaining candidates will focus on March 2 elections in California, New York, Ohio and seven other states. Edwards hopes Wisconsin voters will bounce Dean from the race, leaving him standing alone against Kerry as a serious contender.
The scenario presumes that Edwards would do well enough Tuesday to keep money flowing into his campaign, even as party donors and leaders rally behind Kerry. Edwards’ backers say the odds are steep, and they won’t rule out the possibility he’ll be forced from the race this week.
Signs of winding down
Campaign officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dean is torn between his pragmatic conclusion that the race is about over and his emotional attachment to the fight itself and his supporters. For the moment, emotions and a fighting instinct are holding sway.
But the signs on the campaign trail — huddled meetings involving aides, the absence of a formal schedule beyond Tuesday and dozens of empty chairs at events such as one in Racine, Wis., on Saturday — indicate the end is near for a candidacy that just six weeks ago was first in polls, fund-raising and momentum.
A good chunk of the $41 million Dean raised last year has been spent, although aides and the candidate insist there’s still enough money on hand to continue toward the 10 state contests on March 2.
One possibility is for Dean to suspend active campaigning without formally withdrawing from the race. Some campaign aides said, however, that the shift would probably be more subtle because Dean does not want to quit. The question then would become how Dean could carry on or shift his supporters to a new cause or another candidate.
Campaign manager Roy Neel did not dispute assertions that Dean would give up his presidential bid, but cautioned that Dean was still mulling his options should he lose Tuesday.
Neel also posted a message on the campaign’s blog assuring supporters that Dean wasn’t giving up.