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Despite Attacks, Dean Pressing Forward with Presidential Bid

During the past year, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has emerged from obscurity to become one of the leading Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination next year.

On this particular day, the road to the White House goes through the picturesque New Hampshire town of Henniker, home of New England College.

For Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, it is another opportunity to win over voters, one person at a time.

The crowd at New England College is full of other possible converts, Democrats eager to choose a candidate among the nine contenders best able to defeat President Bush in next year's election. Other candidates have already been here. Today it is Howard Dean's turn. "We have the power to take the White House in 2004 and that is exactly what we are going to do," he said.

Mr. Dean gained notoriety in the Democratic race with his early opposition to the war in Iraq. That seemed to touch a nerve among liberal Democrats who are among President Bush's most vocal opponents. "My job, as commander in chief of the United States military, is never to send our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters or our grandchildren to a foreign country to fight without first telling the truth about why we are going," he says.

It is a message that resonates with Democratic voters like Bill Hrasky, a retired teacher from Peterborough, New Hampshire. "He is angry about the way things are and that appeals to me. I think Bush did a good job after 9-11 and I think he did a good job in Afghanistan and, you know, he showed good leadership," says Mr. Hrasky. "But now he obviously has no plan to pacify Iraq and that bothers the daylights out of me because Americans are dying due to this lack of plans."

Even though he opposed the war, Howard Dean now tells audiences the United States must remain in Iraq to finish the job of making the country a functioning democracy. He also supports the $87 billion reconstruction aid package recently passed by the Congress and signed into law by President Bush.

In New Hampshire and elsewhere, the Iraq war has become a major issue in the battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. "I think that the war with Iraq has become the wedge issue among New Hampshire Democrats and Howard Dean is on the fat side of that wedge," says Dante Scala, a professor of politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. "That is a real difficulty for the other candidates because I believe that the war, more than any other issue, has separated Dean from the rest of the field."

But there is something else that is drawing Democrats to Howard Dean, and it has less to do with what he says than how he says it.

"But there is some kind of a freshness, a direct talking thing about Dean that is really sort of refreshing," says retired teacher Bill Hrasky. "And part of this, I think, this directness, comes from his inner anger and frustration at what is happening in America today."

The Dean campaign has also proven adept at raising money, mostly from small donors, and expanding its grassroots base of support through the Internet. At every Dean appearance, volunteers, many of them college students, are eager to line up new recruits.

The New Hampshire primary will be held one week after the Iowa presidential caucuses, which kick off the candidate selection process in mid-January.

Opinion polls indicate former Governor Dean has a big lead in New Hampshire, primarily because of his message and the fact that he has spent a lot of time in the state.

"He has been here," says Michael Chaney, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Political Library. "He has respected the process in the state and his very words when he filed [his papers to run in the primary] at the [New Hampshire] secretary of state's office [were], 'This state is important because it gave a guy like me, who would have had no chance, in a broader setting to get my message across.' And that is the key to his success."

But Howard Dean's rivals are not giving up. In recent debates, the other Democratic contenders have intensified their attacks on his record as governor of Vermont and now question whether his blunt-spoken style is more of a drawback than an asset.