Dean's lament: Woulda, coulda, shoulda

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Howard Dean is facing his Waterloo in Wisconsin Tuesday, even though he is still in denial about it.

Dean's campaign has melted down since his shock third place finish in the Iowa caucuses four weeks ago. But now it is in a state of chaos and confusion such as few supposedly serious presidential campaigns have ever seen in U.S. history.


After failing to win a single one of the 16 Democratic primary and caucus contests so far, Dean has continued to maintain against a Niagara of cascading evidence to the contrary that he can still pull off some kind of comeback in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday. Instead, all reputable polls -- and they have shown an enviable degree of reliability through this Democratic primary race so far -- show him being whipped better than two-to-one by party front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.


A new Zogby International tracking poll released Monday showed Kerry cruising serenely ahead with 47 percent in Wisconsin and Dean as usual limping forlornly far behind with only 20 percent. Even worse for the former Vermont governor, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as usual was snapping at his back with 20 percent and if recent tracking poll patterns are any indication, not only will Kerry hold on to his lead Tuesday when the voting booths open, he may even stretch it further.

Also Monday, Dean's campaign entered a new Twilight Zone of bizarre chaos even for it when he apparently parted ways with loyal and widely respected national campaign chief Steve Grossman. The New York Times reported Monday that Grossman, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and party candidate for the governorship of Massachusetts, said he would leave the campaign and head to Kerry's camp if Dean didn't win Wisconsin.

Dean in the past has repeatedly pledged to wholeheartedly throw his support behind whomever the Democrats choose as their standard-bearer against President George W. Bush in the fall. But those protestations are now looking extremely threadbare.

In recent days, other candidates have moderated their attacks on Kerry in the interests of party unity. Or, like retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, after pulling out of the race, they have thrown their support wholeheartedly behind him. But not Dean. Instead, over the weekend, he fiercely stepped up his attacks on Kerry, claiming that he was a Washington insider who could not be trusted to implement proclaimed policy of domestic economic reform.


Dean's rationales for taking this tack appear contradictory and confused -- a familiar pattern to anyone who has followed his campaign as it imploded over the past month and a half.

There was the argument that Wisconsin, a Midwest state with both its traditionally prosperous dairy farming and manufacturing sectors hit hard by foreign competition, would be an especially fruitful, even ideal breeding ground for the Dean message. But exactly the same argument was made about neighboring Michigan and Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. And in both states, Kerry walloped Dean.

Consequently, Dean loyalists fell back on the claim that Wisconsin's famous "Progressive" tradition would bail him out. But Kerry has been sounded equally radical in the state, and there have been no indications whatsoever that the ghosts of the LaFollette brothers look likely to bring any spectral intervention on to Dean's side.

Now the latest justification for Dean to hang on in a race where he has become more irrelevant than Al Sharpton is that his loyal followers will provide a potent force for change in the Democratic Party and the nation. But this seems spurious too.

The Democratic Party has entered this race united as it arguably has not been in four decades since Lyndon Baines Johnson's 1964 blowout victory against Barry Goldwater. Blacks, feminists and environmentalists all appear ready to bury their traditionally suicidal "me-first" obsessions in pursuit of the shared goal of evicting George W. Bush from the White House.


Any independent, self-sustaining so-called movement that Dean attempts to maintain through the presidential campaigning seasons of summer and fall can only embarrass and distract from that overriding party priority.

Why, then, is he doing it? For a candidate who has shown less emotional and verbal self-control on the campaign trail than any other supposed serious contender in recent memory, one explanation suggests itself above all others. Like so many before him, Dean has tasted the intoxicating promise of the presidency and now he cannot let it go.

It seems hard to find any other explanation that can account for the absurd contradictions and humiliations Dean is increasingly subjecting himself to by staying in the race and trying to imagine he is still a contender.

As Samantha Jones likes to say in HBO's "Sex and the City," "Woulda, coulda, shoulda."

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