Chastened Dean alters approach for N.H. run-up

His post-Iowa speeches offer similar substance but a more subdued tone

Election 2004 -- On To New Hampshire

January 21, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MANCHESTER, N.H. - There were no red-faced growls, no flung orange caps, no wild high-fives. The morning after his defiant display in the wake of a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean returned to New Hampshire yesterday as a chastened, more sober candidate, recognizing, like a man after a rowdy night out, that it was time for a new approach.

Speaking to crowds still slightly stunned by his distant third-place showing in Iowa, Dean acknowledged that the "campaign has changed a lot" after the caucuses. With his rival Democrats showing new life and adopting some of his own tough language against President Bush, Dean said, he needed to shift to a "different kind of speech."

"This is not the red-meat speech I often give at these rallies," Dean said almost regretfully before a crowd of a few hundred last night at a community college in Concord, his second event of the day. "Those who came for that may be disappointed."

In fact, the speeches Dean gave yesterday differed little in substance from the stem-winders with which the former Vermont governor has, until now, fired his strong insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination. There was the same denunciation of the Iraq war, the same indictment of Bush's tax cuts and environmental policy, the same call for health care reform and voter self-empowerment.

What was different was the tone. Loyal supporters who have come to count on Dean's pumped-up oratory for their political fix were surprised to hear the same lyrics delivered at a lower volume, with the suit jacket on and the sleeves buttoned down.

For some Dean backers, it was a disorienting experience, even as they recognized it might be politically necessary.

"He struck a very even tone. It was a little bit more mellow," said Diana Lambert, a 56-year-old gift-shop owner from Amherst, N.H., after seeing Dean speak at a Manchester hotel. "He needs to blend the mellow with the passion."

Lambert quickly added, "But I don't want him to lose the passion. It's because of my outrage at the [Bush] administration that I'm here. I like that passion."

This is the challenge facing Dean in a week that has shaped up to be nothing like the former physician was expecting. Just a few weeks ago, it appeared quite possible he would be able to ride an Iowa win or a close second-place finish into an easy New Hampshire victory, and cruise from there to the nomination, fueled by a wave of small donations and a lengthening list of Establishment endorsements.

Now, Dean must fight off three candidates in a state many assumed to be his: a resurgent Sen. John Kerry, a rallying Sen. John Edwards, and Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who skipped Iowa to build support in New Hampshire. And, with the primary vote just six days away, Dean is having to reassess a style of campaigning that might have rubbed some voters the wrong way, even as it galvanized others.

Dean supporters speculated yesterday that the shift in tone was likely linked to the negative reaction to Dean's post-caucus speech in Iowa. There, he launched into a barrage of shouts and fist pumps and barely reflected on or acknowledged his setback.

"When I turned on the TV and saw it, I said, `Oh, no, no, no,'" said Cheyne Foreman, a Democratic activist from Henniker, N.H., who is volunteering for Dean. "That's not the picture people want to see."

Joe Mangle, a retired newspaperman from New Boston, N.H., attending the Manchester speech, agreed. "He has to be slightly more statesmanlike. He tells things like it is, he likens himself to Harry Truman ... but he has to be a little more of a politician," Mangle said.

Others were more accepting of Dean's emotional reaction. Tom Upham, a retired electrician attending the Manchester speech, shrugged off Dean's display with Yankee understatement. "There was a little excitement," he said. "It got a little carried away. But it didn't bother me that much."

Scott Eaton, a Manchester lawyer, speculated that Dean had spoken forcefully so as to rally his supporters in upcoming primary states. "He put the best face on it that he could," said Eaton, 52. "He had to make sure people in New Hampshire haven't lost heart."

Certainly, those who turned out for Dean yesterday did not seem to let the Iowa upset demoralize them. They rationalized the Iowa outcome as best they could, saying that Dean had been hurt by the incessant attacks directed at any front-runner.

They hotly dismissed the notion that Kerry had won the caucus because voters deemed him more electable than Dean. Kerry, they said, lacked Dean's energy, his fund-raising ability, his appeal to disenchanted voters and his toughness.

Far from being a better candidate against Bush, they said, Kerry would be easily caricatured by Republicans as an aloof, old-school Massachusetts liberal, a second coming of the 1988 nominee, Michael Dukakis.

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