After both the intense media spin and visceral reation against his concession speech in Iowa, Howard Dean is on life-support. He still has a chance in New Hampshire, but what he will need to do is shift gears.
We have been hearing about Dean's red-meat rhetoric to "take our country back" for months, and that rhetoric is filtering into the Democratic Party dialogue. This is decidedly a good thing for the party. However, Dean's message has been adopted to such an extent that it ceases to make him unique among the candidates in the eyes of the regular voter.
This undercuts a significant part of the support for Dean and puts him into a position where he has to change things up. In New Hampshire, the challenge is to reemphasize his own qualifications and accomplishments as governor of Vermont. Making that shift in message, coupled with the substantive policy proposals that his campaign has been producing, can create a winning formula in New Hampshire.
Of course, this tactical shift will be limited in its effectiveness if Dean does not address "the Scream." To do this, he must tackle the problem in an honest and forthright fashion. The ideal response would be one that is open, somewhat apologetic, and, above all, self-effacing. The voters need to believe that he is a regular guy who just happened to goof up (albeit, with the news media watching closely).
On the more concrete issue of organization, Dean has what it takes to win New Hampshire. There were mistakes made by the campaign in the Iowa caucuses, and the different processes of the caucus process compounded its shortcomings. But the campaign should have an easier time in a more conventional setting, where their volunteers can precinct-walk and phone-bank and only have to worry about getting out the vote on Election Day.
This is certainly the most dire point in Dean's campaign, as his viability as the Democratic nominee has been placed in serious jeopardy by a public misstep and an actively unforgiving news media. But if Dean can run the New Hampshire campaign that he is capable of running and connect to the voters in the way that he capable of, he can win the state.
A Dean win in New Hampshire can be spun one of two ways by the news media. First, the "conventional wisdom" could be that the New Hampshire results were a fluke, that a politically independent state is not an accurate representation of what Democrats really want.
But there is a more optimistic scenario that only exists because of the news media's fickle nature. The media can pick up the angle that a Dean win just proves how resilient this campaign really is, that he was able to survive the worst possible outcome in Iowa and win New Hampshire. It can steal a lot of the perceived "front-runner" thunder away from Kerry and make Dean appear to be the Comeback Kid.
Should this scenario appear to be out of hand, remember that the news media likes a good "story" above all else. They will slant and spin and manipulate to draw out the suspense and keep the viewers' attention. And as much as the news media have had their knives out for Dean, they would foam at the mouth to cover the story of his rise from the political dead.
Stranger things have happened, and we are certainly in the most wide-open primary season in the modern era.