Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean (search) said Sunday that the standard of living for Iraqis is a "whole lot worse" since Saddam Hussein's (search) removal from power in last year's American-led invasion.

"You can say that it's great that Saddam is gone and I'm sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone," said the former Vermont governor, an unflinching critic of the war against Iraq. "But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before."

Dean commented as he campaigned through the final two days before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. He once led comfortably in the polls here but now lags behind fellow New Englander John Kerry (search). "We are now within striking distance of winning," Dean told a rally for women supporters.

Dean spent the day making campaign rounds with his wife, Judy Dean, who was a non-presence in her husband's presidential campaign until a week ago. She was part of a late, unsuccessful effort to stem a slide in support before Iowa's caucuses, where Dean finished a disappointing third.

The former governor said in an interview on Saturday that he believes his wife's presence is helping him, and his aides evidently believe so, too. The campaign has said it is distributing 50,000 videocassette copies of an interview the couple granted to ABC News on Thursday.

Asked Sunday at a forum on women's issues when there would be a female president, Dean replied 2012.

"After I get done, Hillary will be president," he said, referring to a scenario in which he would be elected to two terms and be succeeded by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Dean turned down an invitation to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" so he could continue campaigning in New Hampshire before Tuesday's primary. As he tries to regain prominence, Dean tells voters that he stood against the Iraq war from the beginning while his leading rivals voted for the resolution authorizing an invasion.

The issue launched Dean from a long-shot former governor to a leading contender for the Democratic nomination. But polls on Iowa's caucus night showed more anti-war voters chose Kerry over Dean.

"Now I would never defend Saddam Hussein," Dean told the "Women for Dean" rally. "He's a horrible person. I'm delighted he's gone. Would there not have been a better way to get rid of him in cooperation with the United Nations?"