TUCSON - Trailing other candidates in public opinion polls, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean used an open-air rally here yesterday to return to the brash campaign trail language that set him apart from the field last summer.
Many in the energetic crowd of 1,500 appeared glad that Mr. Dean s foray into a kinder and gentler campaign style - adopted after his Iowa meltdown - had been shelved.
Calling front-runner John Kerry, a fourth-term senator from Massachusetts, “the special interest senator,” Mr. Dean told the crowd in this swing region of Arizona that Democrats need a Washington outsider to win the November election.
“We are not going to beat George Bush by nominating somebody who was the handmaiden of special interests. We can do better than that in the Democratic Party,” he said.
Mr. Dean, who had been near the lead here just weeks ago, now finds himself fighting to stay competitive.
Arizona is one of seven states across the nation that hold primaries or caucuses Tuesday. It is the second-biggest state on the ballot, behind Missouri, with 55 pledged delegates up for grabs. To win the party s nomination, 2,162 delegates are needed.
The campaign stop came on the heels of an announcement by Dean campaign chief Roy Neel that Mr. Dean s strategy does not necessarily require a win Tuesday. If Mr. Dean can hold on through the Wisconsin primary next month, the Neel memo said, the race should be down to just Mr. Dean and Mr. Kerry. Given that choice, Mr. Neel believes Mr. Dean could prevail.
Under overcast skies, the outdoor rally at a city park amphitheater here attracted ardent supporters and curious onlookers alike. Homemade signs flapping in the morning breeze proclaimed, “Dean is electable,” and “I scream, you scream, we all scream for Howard Dean.”
Anthea Scouffas, a worker at the University of Arizona who has supported Mr. Dean for months, said she is a little discouraged with the poll numbers, but that she is sticking with her candidate.
“He got such a quick start this summer, the numbers were fantastic; so this was going to happen,” she said of his fall in the polls. “But Kerry has bought his support with advertising. Ads are an easy answer. You can t buy this energy that I have for Howard Dean.”
If Mr. Dean does not win the nomination, she said she is torn about what to do. “I don t know. I really don t know. Kerry and the others aren t the answer for me.”
Jesse Ybarra, an employee of the Tucson public school district, said Mr. Dean will be fine if he can just hang on.