Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has ended his presidential campaign, effectively creating a two-man race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination between Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
After going winless in the first 17 Democratic caucuses and primaries, Howard Dean told his supporters in Vermont that the time had come to end his quest for the White House, while continuing his campaign to change the Democratic Party.
"We have exposed the dangerous radical nature of George W. Bush's agenda," said Howard Dean. "We have demonstrated to other Democrats that it is a far better strategy to stand up against the right-wing agenda of George W. Bush than it is to cooperate with it."
For now, Howard Dean will not endorse either of his major remaining rivals - Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards. He also ruled out running as a third-party candidate later this year, saying the priority is defeating President Bush in November.
Mr. Dean is urging his supporters to stay active in the political process and support progressive candidates in an effort to change and revitalize the Democratic Party.
"We are determined to keep this entire organization as vibrant as it has been through this campaign," he said. "There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again."
Political analysts are already trying to gauge the impact of the Dean phenomenon on the U.S. political landscape.
In about one year, Howard Dean went from an obscure former governor of a small New England state to the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination and take on President Bush in the November election. And just as quickly, he went from Democratic front-runner to a candidate unable to win anywhere, who was forced to abandon his campaign.
William Schneider is a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He says Howard Dean's bold criticisms of President Bush and his opposition to the war in Iraq set him apart from other Democrats early in the campaign.
"What happened to Howard Dean is very simple," he said. "He sold the message. He could not sell the man. The message was very powerful. Democrats loved the message. They loved it so much they all bought it. All the other candidates stole his message."
But Mr. Schneider says Howard Dean had a much more difficult time getting Democratic voters to like him enough to support him in the early caucus and primary contests.
"But once the voters got a look at the man, something very interesting happened," he said. "And we saw it happening in the polls all over the country and in state after state. Here is what happened to Howard Dean. Voters did not like him. The vote for president, as has been pointed out many times, is the most personal vote Americans cast. They have got to live with this guy in their face on television for four years. And Howard Dean was just not a very appealing character."
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says Senator Kerry, and to a lesser extent Senator Edwards, have done a better job of convincing Democrats that they would be stronger challengers to Mr. Bush than Howard Dean.
"Howard Dean was an exceptional candidate and he actually did create new ways of running for president," he said. "So he has given a legacy to history in that sense. But Howard Dean ran into the buzz saw called electability. In the end, Democrats hate George W. Bush so much that they simply did not want to take a chance on Dean. They did not want to take a chance on throwing away their opportunity to beat Bush."
The demise of the Dean campaign now means a head-to-head competition between the Kerry and Edwards campaigns, something Senator Edwards says he has wanted for a long time.
But both candidates are expected to make overt appeals to lure Dean supporters into their camps, mindful of the former Vermont governor's success at organizing passionate grass roots supporters and raising large sums of money through the Internet.