Published January 29, 2004
CONCORD, N.H. – Gerri and Ron King's house was quiet in the falling snow the day after the New Hampshire primary, a stark contrast to the beehive of activity the day before.
But even with volunteers no longer coming and going or gathering in the kitchen for chili, pasta and hot cider, Gerri and Ron King had no regrets about having poured their hearts, their time and even their home into Howard Dean's (search) presidential campaign.
That's because the upstart campaign of the former governor of neighboring Vermont reignited in them an idealism they had not known in 40 years, Gerri King said.
"I'm 61 years old and I haven't felt like this since college," she said Tuesday, election day. "I have not felt this passionate."
She still felt the passion Wednesday and was still committed to her candidate. But the ups and downs of Dean's once high-flying campaign in the week between his crushing defeat in the Iowa caucuses and his respectable but disappointing second in New Hampshire was tough for those who had committed so much.
Dean went from Howard Who?
Once the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Dean saw his campaign collapse in a series of nasty charges and countercharges with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) and then a high-octane concession speech Jan. 19.
In crisis mode, the campaign struggled to stem the free fall in New Hampshire.
Stephen Terry took a previously planned 10 days off from his post as a top executive with a Vermont utility to volunteer with Dean's New Hampshire staff. He was in Lebanon and Claremont when the new Dean -- a quieter, more reflective, more personable former governor dedicated to balancing budgets and expanding health care -- was unveiled.
Just returned from Iowa, Dean gave a speech on Jan. 20 that was free of "red-meat rhetoric," though he still criticized President Bush's domestic performance.
As if to emphasize the newfound moderation, Dean responded to a heckler in Concord by singing the national anthem while the protester was removed.
And still the rock the Dean campaign had become dropped. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search) became the new front-runner as Dean struggled to find his footing.
He began to find his way again by Thursday with a pair of rallies where he was surrounded by the people with whom he had worked during his 11 years as governor. His gubernatorial chief of staff, press secretary, economic development commissioner, advisers and friends made the trip east to be at his side during his toughest hour.
But the event that truly buoyed Dean and his campaign, helping to salvage his primary race, happened back on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River when he was joined by his wife, Judy, for her first broadcast interview.
"I felt like Judy was a huge turning point," said Susan Allen, a former Dean press secretary who helped orchestrate the interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "Judy did just what everyone hoped she would do. She softened his image and she quieted speculation about why she's not around."
The interview restored some hope to supporters who saw a campaign reeling and helped counteract some of the fallout from Iowa.
Gerri King considered the so-called "scream" speech that Dean delivered in Iowa an anomaly -- media-created at that.
"There were lots of people who felt like we did. It was out of context," she said. "Neither of us was that upset with the talk," a football-type pep talk to a group of mainly young volunteers.
But the drop in support was unsettling and King was pleased to see Judy Dean begin to play a role. Then Dean, at the final debate of the campaign at Saint Anselm College, opened by joking about the Iowa screech.
King said she felt the campaign begin to take flight again.
"He handled it exactly as I hoped he would, with humor," she said. "He owned up to it."
By last weekend, Dean had recovered. It helped that by Saturday he was surrounded by family, including 19-year-old daughter Anne. She surprised her father by traveling to Manchester with a group of Yale friends to offer support, even though neither she nor her dad publicized the visit.
Sunday, Judy Dean decided she needed to be by her husband's side, so she canceled her patients for Monday and spent two days on the campaign trail. His mother, Andree, also put in appearances over the weekend, as did Dean's brothers, Jim and Bill.
Ultimately, it wasn't enough as Dean finished 12 percentage points behind Kerry.
No one can know for sure what went wrong, but Gerri King had a theory Wednesday as she began to clear the paper plates that littered her house and made the beds that had been filled by a stream of Dean volunteers.
A former therapist, she now conducts seminars and workshops on conflict resolution and effective communication. She counsels people on how to accept change, something that most resist.
That's precisely what Dean was offering voters.
"To go with Howard Dean is to go with something different in terms of government and administration," King said.
She concluded that it was exciting for voters to flirt with the breadth of change that Dean represented, but ultimately too frightening. "Giving up the familiar is very difficult to do," she said. "This is more of a risk; this is different than we're used to."
An exit poll suggested that voters balked over whether Dean could defeat Bush in the fall. Two in 10 people said they most wanted a candidate who could defeat Bush, and they favored Kerry almost 6-to-1.
Almost four in 10 said they do not think Dean has the right temperament to be president -- and they also voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.
The poll was conducted for Fox News, The Associated Press and a number of other media outlets by Edison Media Research Mitofsky International.
Ever the true believer, King was ready for the next round of contests.
"I woke up this morning thinking, `Now we're back to our normal lives,"' she said. "But I'm not giving up on him. There have been, historically, people who've lost Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to be president. I'm very glad he's sticking with it."