By JODI WILGOREN
Published: February 10, 2004
STEVENS POINT, Wis., Feb. 9 — In an abrupt reversal, Howard Dean said Monday that he would not back out of the Democratic presidential race regardless of what happened in Wisconsin's primary on Feb. 17.
Acknowledging that it was an "obvious contradiction" from his fund-raising e-mail message to supporters last week saying he would be "out of the race" unless he carried Wisconsin, Dr. Dean said supporters urging him in recent days not to quit had persuaded him to stay for the long haul. He said he was unsure what a post-Wisconsin strategy might look like if he lost on Tuesday, promising only that it would not be a "quixotic campaign that's going to attack the nominee of the Democratic Party."
"The truth now appears to be that we're going to have to find a way to stay in," Dr. Dean, who has ruled out running as a third-party candidate, said in a news conference after blurting out his plans to remain in the race in interviews with television stations in Green Bay.
"If I'm so big on ordinary people, how am I going to resist all the people who are tugging at my sleeve or doing it electronically, saying, Don't quit?" he asked, noting that he had raised more than $1.1 million over the Internet since his do-or-die e-mail message. "We can't let those people go, and we're not going to let those people go. They don't want to quit, and I'm not going to quit on them."
The announcement by Dr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who has failed to win one of the 12 Democratic primaries or caucuses so far, came as he unveiled a new slogan and a new speech for an aggressive eight-day sprint through Wisconsin, which he still describes as a "make or break" state.
Under new signs saying "Real Choice, Real Change," an echo of Senator John Kerry's "real deal" slogan, Dr. Dean called for a ban on lobbyists' making campaign contributions, as he continued hammering the front-runner, Mr. Kerry, for accepting donations from lobbyists.
"Wisconsin, you have the power to keep this debate alive," Dr. Dean told a packed rally of hundreds of students here at this central Wisconsin campus of the state university.
A Dean aide said the candidate had not discussed his change of heart in advance with anyone on his staff.
Dr. Dean said he "was unaware of making this decision" before announcing it. He explained that he often let choices "incubate unconsciously for a long time before I actually make a formal decision."
Some of Dr. Dean's supporters said they feared that the reversal could leave the campaign as more of a protest movement than a serious bid for the White House.
Many of Dr. Dean's backers on Capitol Hill and in labor were relieved by the Wisconsin-or-out strategy announced last week because it provided an exit — for themselves as well as their candidate.
Dr. Dean's announcement that he would stay in the race, Democrats inside and outside the campaign said, could lead others to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, who have withdrawn their endorsements.
The union, which told Dr. Dean of its decision on Saturday and made its position public on Monday, said it "has ended its activities on behalf of the Dean campaign and is shifting its resources to the general election."
Some supporters had expected Dr. Dean to drop out next week and announce he would use his campaign organization to raise money for local candidates and speak out on issues. Now he is suggesting that is not enough. "I don't think this is a responsible time to leave the playing field," he said on Monday.
Dr. Dean, who also spoke at the University of Wisconsin's Green Bay campus, said that the speedy primary process he had been counting on to wrap up the nomination early was "problematic," and that he was worried that Mr. Kerry had not been adequately "vetted."
"I now realize that he has not gone through the process that I've been through, and I think every person who's considered for the nomination is going to have to go through that process," he said.
Dr. Dean said he would "absolutely" drop out if he determined it was impossible for him to win the nomination, but he would not say how many states he could lose without reaching that threshold.