A different side of Dean

By Josh Benson

Published January 22, 2004 11:26PM (EST)

A bronchitis-stricken Howard Dean attempted to move past his fiery Iowa concession speech by addressing the subject up front today to a crowd of 300 supporters in Claremont, N.H.: "I'm a little hoarse," he said. "It's not from my Iowa screech -- I actually have a cold."

He also volunteered an explanation, not only for his unusually energetic performance that night in West Des Moines, but for the missteps that sometimes come with his spontaneity. "I can promise you that I may wear the wrong suits, I may say the wrong thing, but you are always going to know who I am and what I believe in," he said.

Dean on the stump was considerably quieter than usual, although that was as much a function of his failing voice as anything else. "It's very hard to hit those high notes when you have no voice left," he said.

On the issues, Dean was the same no-frills centrist who governed Vermont for five terms. He talked of balancing budgets, health care, and the environment. Coming back time and again to his deficit hawk credentials, he hit his major points while steering clear of the loudest of his usual applause lines. He also stopped talking so much about the process of winning -- a criticism he's heard in recent days -- other than to note that "New Hampshire has a habit of reversing Iowans."

The press, all working on some version of a 'Can Dean Turn Things Around' story, wanted to know what was up with his newfound humility. Was he actually apologizing for his wild performance in Iowa?

"What I'm saying is I'm not perfect," he said. "I have warts. As I said, sometimes I get very passionate, sometimes I wear suits that I probably shouldn't wear, but I am who I am."

We'll hear more from Dean tonight when he and his wife Judy give what some might see as a Hail Mary interview to Diane Sawyer. Why was his wife emerging after barely appearing with him on the campaign trail, reporters asked?

The interview, Dean said, would let people see "a different side" of him.

Josh Benson

Josh Benson is Salon's national correspondent.

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