Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) is the undisputed phenomenon of the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign. At diners, even on the street, he's setting the pace, agenda and routinely drawing enthusiastic crowds to campaign events.
"I'm going to do everything I can to get you elected," a ready-made volunteer told him on Thursday as he crossed New Hampshire (search) whipping up the troops.
Campaigning at one watering hole in this first-in-the-nation primary, Dean cast himself to Fox News as the anti-establishment insurgent.
"I'm definitely an outsider," he told Fox News. "If you look at what's happening in this race, people are saying, 'Look, the Washington candidates had their chance and this isn't going to work.'"
After months on the trail, Dean, rather than being the come-from-behind insurgent, is leading polls in key early states and has a huge war chest. The self-proclaimed outsider is the closest thing to a front-runner, normally reserved for an establishment candidate, in this type of race.
Dean's fund-raising is just one example of his popularity. A few weeks ago, he raised a half million dollars on the Internet over four days in a challenge to supporters to match a fund-raiser attended by Vice President Dick Cheney that raised $500,000.
On Friday, Dean's campaign sent out another call over the Internet, challenging supporters to raise $1 million by Tuesday to match President Bush's fund-raising exercise in Oregon on Thursday in which the president pulled in $1 million. Progress will be charted on the candidate's Web site.
His success at those endeavors is one sign that Democrats just seem to find Dean the most interesting pick of the nine hopefuls vying to take on President Bush next year.
"The one thing we are doing that nobody else can do is bring a lot of new people into this race. The way we are going to beat George Bush is to give the 50 percent of Americans who don't vote a reason to vote again, try to bring 3 to 4 million new voters in and they will be voting for Democrats," he said.
Dean's success has forced all of his rivals to adjust strategy. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search), in particular, appears driven to distraction. Kerry has taken a weeklong break from campaigning to rest up and retool for a post-Labor Day rally formally kicking off his campaign. Kerry aides are divided about going negative. Dean is bracing for it.
"I think they will all pound me. These guys want to be president, so do I. I'm now ahead of them, they're going to come after me with everything they've got. I understand that," Dean said.
The other candidates may have trouble finding something to pound. Dean said he can't be labeled, making it much harder to figure out what he stands for.
"I'm liberal on some things, conservative on others and in the middle on some things," he said.
One thing he does not dispute is having a temper.
"I can be acerbic, especially with the press because when the press pushes me, I push back. But I am not like that with voters because I think voters are pretty straightforward. If they are trying to go after you, then I can be tough," Dean said.
Even New Hampshire Democrats in rival campaigns say Dean is the candidate to watch -- and his battle with Kerry is key.
The idea that Dean could win the nomination is now seriously being considered here, and it's a matter of concern -- though not exactly worry yet -- among many Democrats who say they don't think Dean can possibly beat Bush.
But these are uncharted waters in American politics -- never before has the insurgent outsider also been the front-runner, giving Dean either plenty of time to implode or to win over even more surprise converts.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.