SPOKANE, Wash. – Howard Dean (search), once the fresh face in American politics from computer screens to magazine covers, finds himself as just another struggling White House (search) hopeful who can't seem to get a win.
The former Vermont governor declared himself undaunted Tuesday night as state after state went to his Democratic rivals in the seven-state voting.
"Here's why we're going to keep going and going and going and going and going just like the Energizer Bunny," Dean told supporters in Washington state, which votes Saturday. "We're going to pick up some delegates tonight and this is all about who gets the most delegates in Boston in July and it's going to be us."
Just six weeks ago, Dean's victory in the Democratic presidential primary appeared all but inevitable. He had money, the lead in polls and legions of supporters around the country who got together every month to discuss how they would help him wrap up the nomination.
Now, Dean's White House bid hangs on a last-chance strategy -- keep plugging along despite more impending losses while other underdog candidates spend themselves out of the race. Then engage front-runner John Kerry (search) directly.
Dean blames the media for crowning him too soon and rivals whom he says torpedoed his candidacy using every desperate tactic they knew. But there were other problems -- lavish spending early in the race, difficulty transferring his cult-like support into votes and a candidate who sometimes talked without thinking of the political consequences.
"Howard Dean had a great recruitment message for Democrats and new voters to get them into the party and feel part of the process," said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus. "I think Democrats are past wanting to be recruited and they are now looking at electability instead of inspiration."
In some ways, Dean is back to where he started a year ago -- an antiestablishment candidate who most observers say has a long shot at winning.
"I can't really think of a flop that big," said Democratic strategist Dane Strother. "He flopped so big he put the water out of the pool."
On Tuesday, Dean had his best showing among voters looking for a candidate who stands up for his beliefs. His support was stronger among young people and, in Delaware and Arizona, among voters who made up their minds a while ago, before his early defeats.
In Missouri, Delaware and South Carolina, Dean showed stronger support among voters who call themselves liberals than among other groups, but he was still far behind even among the most liberal of Tuesday's electorate.
And while organization on the Internet propelled Dean's early effort, he also lost by substantial margins among voters who said they frequently visited candidate Web sites.
Dean gained respect among the Washington crowd by raising more than $40 million last year, a Democratic record. Thousands of Americans, many who had never donated before to a political campaign, were inspired to contribute to Dean's anti-Iraq war, anti-Washington candidacy.
But Dean frittered away his $40 million by January and all he had to show for it were losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"We had to take enormous risks because I came from nowhere when people had never heard of me before," Dean said this past weekend. "We did take those risks and we lost."
Dean says his biggest mistake was responding to rival Dick Gephardt's attacks in Iowa. As the two rivals fought it out, Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards gained in the polls.
The result was that Dean came in a shockingly distant third place behind Kerry and Edwards. The negative campaigning with Gephardt put the Missouri congressman in fourth place and ended his bid, and left Dean severely battered, too. An overenthusiastic concession speech that became the butt of jokes on talk radio and late-night TV didn't help.