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Chastened Dean alters approach for N.H. run-up

MANCHESTER, N.H. — MANCHESTER, N.H. - There were no red-faced growls, no flung orange caps, no wild high-fives. The morning after his defiant display in the wake of a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean returned to New Hampshire yesterday as a chastened, more sober candidate, recognizing, like a man after a rowdy night out, that it was time for a new approach.

Speaking to crowds still slightly stunned by his distant third-place showing in Iowa, Dean acknowledged that the "campaign has changed a lot" after the caucuses. With his rival Democrats showing new life and adopting some of his own tough language against President Bush, Dean said, he needed to shift to a "different kind of speech."

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"This is not the red-meat speech I often give at these rallies," Dean said almost regretfully before a crowd of a few hundred last night at a community college in Concord, his second event of the day. "Those who came for that may be disappointed."

In fact, the speeches Dean gave yesterday differed little in substance from the stem-winders with which the former Vermont governor has, until now, fired his strong insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination. There was the same denunciation of the Iraq war, the same indictment of Bush's tax cuts and environmental policy, the same call for health care reform and voter self-empowerment.

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What was different was the tone. Loyal supporters who have come to count on Dean's pumped-up oratory for their political fix were surprised to hear the same lyrics delivered at a lower volume, with the suit jacket on and the sleeves buttoned down.

For some Dean backers, it was a disorienting experience, even as they recognized it might be politically necessary.

"He struck a very even tone. It was a little bit more mellow," said Diana Lambert, a 56-year-old gift-shop owner from Amherst, N.H., after seeing Dean speak at a Manchester hotel. "He needs to blend the mellow with the passion."

Lambert quickly added, "But I don't want him to lose the passion. It's because of my outrage at the [Bush] administration that I'm here. I like that passion."

This is the challenge facing Dean in a week that has shaped up to be nothing like the former physician was expecting. Just a few weeks ago, it appeared quite possible he would be able to ride an Iowa win or a close second-place finish into an easy New Hampshire victory, and cruise from there to the nomination, fueled by a wave of small donations and a lengthening list of Establishment endorsements.

Now, Dean must fight off three candidates in a state many assumed to be his: a resurgent Sen. John Kerry, a rallying Sen. John Edwards, and Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who skipped Iowa to build support in New Hampshire. And, with the primary vote just six days away, Dean is having to reassess a style of campaigning that might have rubbed some voters the wrong way, even as it galvanized others.

Dean supporters speculated yesterday that the shift in tone was likely linked to the negative reaction to Dean's post-caucus speech in Iowa. There, he launched into a barrage of shouts and fist pumps and barely reflected on or acknowledged his setback.

"When I turned on the TV and saw it, I said, 'Oh, no, no, no,'" said Cheyne Foreman, a Democratic activist from Henniker, N.H., who is volunteering for Dean. "That's not the picture people want to see."

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Joe Mangle, a retired newspaperman from New Boston, N.H., attending the Manchester speech, agreed. "He has to be slightly more statesmanlike. He tells things like it is, he likens himself to Harry Truman ... but he has to be a little more of a politician," Mangle said.

Others were more accepting of Dean's emotional reaction. Tom Upham, a retired electrician attending the Manchester speech, shrugged off Dean's display with Yankee understatement. "There was a little excitement," he said. "It got a little carried away. But it didn't bother me that much."

Scott Eaton, a Manchester lawyer, speculated that Dean had spoken forcefully so as to rally his supporters in upcoming primary states. "He put the best face on it that he could," said Eaton, 52. "He had to make sure people in New Hampshire haven't lost heart."

Certainly, those who turned out for Dean yesterday did not seem to let the Iowa upset demoralize them. They rationalized the Iowa outcome as best they could, saying that Dean had been hurt by the incessant attacks directed at any front-runner.

They hotly dismissed the notion that Kerry had won the caucus because voters deemed him more electable than Dean. Kerry, they said, lacked Dean's energy, his fund-raising ability, his appeal to disenchanted voters and his toughness.

Far from being a better candidate against Bush, they said, Kerry would be easily caricatured by Republicans as an aloof, old-school Massachusetts liberal, a second coming of the 1988 nominee, Michael Dukakis.

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"He'd be the biggest dud anyone has ever seen," said Scott Eaton's wife, Aurore, an insurance agent. "If people think the Republicans won't pile on Kerry, they're wrong. The attacks will start, and he'll crumble. Dean won't. He's tough as nails."

In his newly somber speeches yesterday, Dean sought to rebut one of his rivals' main criticisms of him, that he lacked the foreign policy experience to protect the country in a dangerous world. If he was such a rookie, he said, why was it that he had the foresight to question the motivations for the Iraq war, while Kerry and Edwards had voted for it?

"I was able to divine that the president was not being candid about the facts with the American people, when all the other senators weren't able to," he said.

Mangle agreed but said Dean needed to make an adjustment in his foreign policy platform and start focusing on what he would do with Iraq as it exists, rather than just decrying the U.S. invasion.

"We are there now, and being against the war without an exit strategy is a risky business," Mangle said.

Other Dean backers took solace in one possible positive from the Iowa results: At least their man might regain the allure of the underdog. "He's not inevitable, and that could energize people," said Aurore Eaton.

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And New Hampshire voters, Dean's supporters noted, have a long history of reversing the trends coming out of the caucuses. Upham, for one, believed that such a correction was in order. Asked to sum up the meaning of Dean's poor showing, the retired electrician answered without a second's thought: "The people of Iowa were misinformed."

Upcoming primaries

Jan. 27: New Hampshire

Feb. 3: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina

Feb. 6: Democrats abroad

Feb. 7: Michigan, Washington

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Feb. 8: Maine

Feb. 10: Tennessee, Virginia


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