After New Hampshire

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(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore reflects on the Dean campaign — after New Hampshire.

(Dunsmore) One week ago, after finishing a bad third in Iowa, he was sick, his voice gone, and his “scream speech” was polluting the airwaves. His poll numbers in New Hampshire were in free fall and there wasn’t a commentator in the country, including this one, who would bet five cents on his chances at the nomination. So, by finishing second yesterday, Howard Dean defied the odds.

But let us not forget that at the beginning of this year Howard Dean had the lead in Iowa and was more than 30 points ahead of John Kerry in the polls in New Hampshire.

Now a year ago, running third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire would have surpassed Dean’s wildest dreams. But less than a month ago, his strategists were basing their plans on a win in Iowa and a huge victory in New Hampshire to get the bandwagon rolling that would make his nomination seem inevitable.

Instead, they are now in a very tight race and are looking at parts of the country much less welcoming than Iowa and New Hampshire. The states having primaries next week, include South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Missouri. The South and South West, where anti-war liberals are in rather short supply, is not exactly Dean Country.

So what happened?

Was it all that negative campaigning by his opponents? Was it an unrelentingly negative news media. Yes and yes I would say, at least in part. Dean was the front- runner for four months, much of it with a big “hit me” target on his back.

A few days ago, Peter Jennings told me he believed the news-media had been grossly unfair to Dean. He added, “I saw Dean in action the other day, and he was brilliant.”

But if you are running for President, you cannot expect the news media to be fair. Ask Bill Clinton or Al Gore. And how a candidate copes with the news media — and his opponents — becomes a measure of how well he will deal with the pressures and the crises of the White House.

In my view however, Dean lost in Iowa and New Hampshire, places where he had spent a year doing retail politics, where he had the momentum and the money, and where many voters are liberal and anti-war, because at the critical moment when they had to make their choice, most voters decided Dean would not be able to defeat George W. Bush.

For all his passion and his popular policies, Dean has no credible military or foreign policy credentials. And after 9/11, that matters.

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Bush left no doubt that national security is the issue on which he plans to fight the election.

But even on that issue, in a battle against a newly energized Democratic Party, a Bush victory over a Kerry-Edwards ticket, say, is by no means a sure thing. And if the Democrats should win next November, some of the credit will belong to Howard Dean.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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