Voters go to the polls in Wisconsin Tuesday, in what many observers believe could be the last contest for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who was the front-runner, as recently as two months ago. Mr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, says he will reassess his campaign if he loses in Wisconsin.
Howard Dean ended the last full day of his campaign in Wisconsin on a high note, appearing before more than a thousand cheering supporters who crowded into a downtown theater in Madison. Wisconsin's capital city is one of the the most liberal enclaves in the state.
To judge by the crowd here, one would think Governor Dean was on the track to victory. But the reality for the Dean campaign is much more bleak. Crowds at some of his recent appearances have been smaller than anticipated. He has failed to win a single primary or caucus out of 16 contests, so far. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has won 14 of the events and is now considered almost certain to win the nomination.
Some Dean staffers are reported to have begun looking for jobs outside the campaign and, on Monday, Dean campaign Chairman Steve Grossman quit, indicating that he will probably go to work for Senator Kerry.
Howard Dean told reporters he wished him well. "I absolutely do not feel betrayed by Steve Grossman," he said. "I consider him to be a friend. I consider him to have worked very, very hard for this campaign."
Dean continues to count on fervid supporters like Dave, who stood in the freezing cold, Monday on a Madison street. handing out Dean pamphlets. He blames the mass media for his candidate's setbacks.
"I am somewhat disappointed in that aspect," he said. "The media has wrapped up the campaign, wrapped up the primaries at a very early point. Only 20 or 25 percent of the people have voted so far."
But, does Dave think Mr. Dean still has a chance? "I think he does. And, if he does not go, he is still doing a very positive thing for this country and the Democratic Party," he said. "He is getting new people in and he is getting old Democrats to be active Democrats. So, whether he goes to the White House or not, I still have hope because there is positive action coming out of this."
In the end, that may be Howard Dean's legacy. He reached out to voters at the grassroots level, nationwide, using new tools like the Internet and making a special impact on young people. He also addressed what have become the major issues early on, the war in Iraq, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and the lack of universal health care for all Americans.
In his final rally before this primary, Mr. Dean noted that these are now the issues all the candidates are talking about and that many of his proposals are bound to end up in the party's platform.
Because of your work over the last year and a half, we have already written the Democratic Party platform," he said. "I was in the debate last night and everybody was doing pieces of the Democratic party platform, the Dean platform, the Dean for America platform. I think that is great. That is one of the reasons we started this thing out was to put some spine back in the Democratic party."
Although Howard Dean continued insisting that he is out to win, longtime observers say it is clear some of his energy has diminished. He now speaks of his impact on the party platform, rather than his own victory. He also makes it clear that he will back the person who does win the nomination.
"Let me tell you, these other senators who are running against me," he said. "I think they are fine people. And, believe me, if one of them wins the nomination I am going to support him because anybody is better than George W. Bush."
If the results of the Wisconsin primary are as expected - based on recent poll Howard Dean will not win and will possibly drop out or suspend his campaign. The challenge for the Democratic Party then will be to retain the thousands of Dean supporters who responded with energy and enthusiasm to his campaign.