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Dean's Denial

The former front-runner doesn't seemed to have learned much from his Iowa debacle.

1:00 PM, Jan 21, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
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A half-night's sleep later, Dean reintroduced himself to several hundred of his grownup New Hampshire supporters at an 11 a.m. hotel ballroom speech in downtown Manchester. This was to have been the buttoned-down version, as his hovering staffers freely acknowledged to attending reporters: the presidential candidate who can learn from his setbacks, and continue to expand his appeal, and restrain himself from turning funny colors when the neighbors are watching -- the same, impressive Howard Dean whom I'd first laid eyes on, coincidentally enough, in the very same room, almost ten months before to the day. And he almost pulled it off. He did pull it off, in fact, for the better part of 45 minutes, conquering his audience so completely that it no longer seemed he had to try.

At which point he visibly relaxed, smiling and bouncing up and down on his toes, airport-hangar style, and let it rip. Someone asked him about parental notification restrictions on abortion; by way of reply, he very incautiously resuscitated an anecdote no one's heard him use for months -- the controversial, because curiously inapposite and possibly apocryphal tale of a 12-year-old girl made pregnant by a man then-Dr. Dean mistakenly suspected was the girl's own father. Talking to reporters a few minutes later, Dean blithely said no, "not really," he and his aides didn't think it especially urgent to figure out what might have gone wrong in Iowa; he preferred to reflect on "what went right." Did he remain optimistic about his prospects in New Hampshire? Yes, he did -- because he was from a neighboring state, so folks here knew him better, well enough to detect and reject all the obviously bogus nasty stuff that "people say and write about me," the bastards.

Late yesterday afternoon, while speaking to a rally crowd in Concord, Dean happened to notice a man mockingly -- but quietly -- holding a Confederate flag. Whereupon the governor stopped himself mid-sentence, announced his view that the flagholder ought by rights to be removed from the scene, and then stood there glowering, while the TV cameras whirred, as security guards literally dragged the poor guy away.

Yeee-haaaw.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.