Howard Dean launched an aggressive assault on his Democratic rivals Thursday as his new campaign chief began the work of retooling his insurgent presidential bid.
A day after Dean brought in a political veteran to run his campaign, the former Vermont governor made a swing through Michigan, a delegate-rich state he hopes to win on Feb. 7.
During a stop at the East Lansing campus of Michigan State University, Dean acknowledged the challenges facing his campaign, once flush with cash and soaring, now struggling to right itself.
“Revolutions are historically not so easy ... and there will be tough times,” he told several hundred supporters jammed into an auditorium. “And we’re in a tough time right now.”
The candidate’s standing in the Democratic race has fallen precipitously in the last month. After poor performances in the first presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the onetime Democratic frontrunner on Wednesday replaced his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, with Roy Neel, a longtime advisor to former Vice President Al Gore. Trippi, urged to stay on as an advisor, subsequently quit.
Meanwhile, Dean’s staff members were forced to defer their pay for two weeks because the campaign had exhausted much of its resources.
Despite the campaign bumps, Dean sounded a defiant tone in his Michigan speech. He criticized his opponents as captives of an entrenched political system and said they had failed to challenge the Bush administration until recently.
“Those who shrank from confrontation from the right wing of the Republican Party in the face of polls and pundits now compete to outdo each other in the condemnation of George W. Bush,” Dean said. “I’m tired of Democrats who find it convenient to be a Democrat only during primary time.”
Without naming names, Dean cast the race as a choice between “a Washington insider who shifts back and forth with every poll, who cut the best deals they could get to sell out the interests of ordinary Americans, who spent decades collaborating with the special interests to fuel their campaigns -- or somebody from outside Washington who depends on you to fund the campaign.”
He was presumably referring to Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts as the first option.
Neel met with campaign workers at Dean’s headquarters in Burlington, Vt., and said he was enthusiastic about his new role, according to those in attendance.
He said he spoke to Trippi on Thursday morning and hoped to consult with him regularly.
Dean is counting on his grass-roots supporters, who helped raise a record $41 million last year, to restore the campaign’s financial health.
The former governor has spent $8.5 million in television commercials alone, a large share of that as far back as last summer, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, a media research firm specializing in political advertising.
Dean aides would not say how much cash the campaign has, but the candidate acknowledged the need to be frugal.
“We are having to husband our resources,” Dean told reporters Wednesday night. “We have 20 states in five or six weeks. So we’re worried about money, we’re careful about money, but we’re not broke.”
His advisors hope to conserve enough money to remain competitive at least through March. They believe Dean can stage a comeback in delegate-rich states like Michigan, Washington state, Wisconsin, California and New York. The Democratic winner will need at least 2,200 delegates to secure the party nomination.
However, that strategy will divert the candidate from putting energy into the seven states -- Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Delaware and North Dakota -- that hold primaries or caucuses on Tuesday. The move is risky, increasing the chances that Dean could fail to win a state next week and further slow his candidacy.
“The question was, do you have to win on Feb. 3?” Dean asked reporters as his plane flew from Vermont to Michigan on Thursday morning. “We want to, but we don’t have to.”
Dean’s advisors hope he pulls away enough delegates to force a vote at the Democratic National Convention at the end of July.
“We’re now girding for the long haul,” advisor Steve McMahon said.
But some supporters said that Dean must be able to declare a victory soon in order to sustain momentum.
“He has to convince people he can win, and the problem is, to convince people of that, you actually have to win,” said Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Dean.
In a sign of the change of Dean’s political fortunes, his campaign remained off the television airwaves across the country for the second day in a row. It was a dramatic shift from last winter, when Dean was running ads in a half-dozen states at a time and pledging to stay on the air through early February.
Dean’s media consulting firm, Trippi, McMahon & Squire, will now work with an advisory committee drawn from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, including film director Rob Reiner, to redesign Dean’s ads, which have been criticized by some supporters as ineffective.