MONTPELIER, Vt. – Presidential candidate Howard Dean made significant gains among rank-and-file Democrats with his strong anti-war stance. Now comes the hard part: persuading the party faithful that his appeal did not end with the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
One of nine announced hopefuls for the party's nomination, Dean saw his criticism of President Bush and the move toward war against Iraq resonate with liberal Democrats in New Hampshire and Iowa early stage in the campaign. Dean surged into a tie with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in some New Hampshire polls.
Campaign contributions rolled in, and Dean amassed $2.6 million from January to March. Fellow Democrats sat up and took notice. "The guy blasted onto the scene," said John Podesta, a former chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
But with Saddam's regime in ruins, those same Democrats are wondering whether the former Vermont governor can meet the challenge of convincing the electorate that he is more than a one-issue candidate.
"He needs to keep the passion going among the people who originally gravitated to him because of the war," Podesta said. "At the same time he needs to get back to the center, where his record indicates he is most comfortable. The question will be, 'Do people see that as coherent and consistent or opportunistic and weird?'"
In campaign appearances, Dean has raised other issues, including health care, education policy and Bush's proposed tax cuts, but they were overshadowed by his anti-war talk. At those events, Dean assailed the administration and also sought to draw a distinction with his Democratic rivals, particularly lawmakers who have backed parts of the president's domestic and national security agenda.
"I did not get in this race as the peace candidate," Dean said in a recent interview. "People are turning to my campaign because they want a sense of hope again, they want health insurance and they want leaders who are not afraid to say what they think."
Gordon Fischer, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, says Dean should not be pigeonholed as the anti-war candidate. "That does him a disservice," Fischer said. "I think Governor Dean's candidacy is about much more than the war.
"I think there is a feeling among Democrats who are most active that in the last election the Democrats suffered by not having more of a voice, not sticking up for their beliefs, and I think Governor Dean speaks to that," said Fischer, who is neutral in the race.
Steve Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a strong Dean backer, said Dean will have no trouble shifting gears. "Yes, the war is over," said Grossman. "Yes, he has been seen by a lot of people as being the anti-war candidate, but Howard Dean is much more than the anti-war candidate."
But Dean Spiliotes, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, said he believes Dean's anti-war stance may come back to haunt him.
"In the short-term, this has been a great jump-start to his campaign," Spiliotes said. "My feeling, though, is his position on the war is going to be problematic if he gets to be the nominee or even once he gets to more conservative Democratic states."