Howard Dean gambled to save his faltering candidacy for the Democratic White House nomination yesterday, more or less conceding the seven states which vote on Tuesday ahead of a last stand in Michigan and Wisconsin.
From being the apparent early winner of the contest just two weeks ago, Dean has tumbled to distant outsider, roundly beaten in the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire by the Massachusetts senator John Kerry, and is even running short of money, the field where he was once unchallenged.
The most dramatic move in a shake-up of top campaign staff has been the replacement of Joe Trippi, widely credited with the innovative use of the internet by the Dean campaign, with Roy Neel, a top aide of former vice-president Al Gore.
The irony could not be more telling. The candidate who built his outsider's campaign on scorn for Washington insiders and the so-called Democratic "cockroaches" on Capitol Hill who failed to stand up to President George Bush, has now turned to a quintessential Washington insider to save himself.
Mr Neel was a leading senatorial aide to Al Gore, and then his vice-presidential chief of staff, before becoming a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry. He was also a senior adviser for Mr Gore's unsuccessful White House bid in 2000, generally regarded as a model for how not to run a presidential campaign.
Developments on the financial front are also ominous. Dean campaign workers are being asked to accept a two-week postponement of their wages, to free up resources. Although Mr Dean raised some $42m (£23m) before New Hampshire, far more than any of his rivals, his aides admit that the small donors who provided the bulk of this are starting to balk at committing more money to what increasingly looks a lost cause.
In a second move to economise, Mr Dean has decided to skip TV advertising in the seven states which vote on 3 February, in the first multiple test of the candidates.
"You are going to see a leaner, meaner organisation," Mr Dean told reporters. "We had geared up for what we thought would be a front-runner's campaign." Now, he said, "its going to be a long, long war of attrition". But even the latter may soon no longer be an option.
"Realistically," one political analyst said, "Dean hardly has a chance of victory in any of the seven states [Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, South Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma and North Dakota]."
But senior Democrats have privately told him that second and third place finishes are no longer enough. Indeed Terry McAuliffe, the party chairman, has warned that any candidate who has not won a primary by the morning of 4 February should "consider his position" - in other words, pull out.
Mr Dean yesterday went to address a rally in Michigan, whose caucuses are on 7 February. The former Vermont governor sees them as a springboard for a come-back, but Mr Kerry has opened up a double-digit lead there.
The tribulations of the Dean campaign have embarrassed many of his high-profile endorsers. Mr Gore, a former supporter, is now nowhere to be seen on the campaign trail, and the same goes for Bill Bradley, whom Mr Gore defeated for the 2000 nomination. And many congressional figures who backed Mr Dean when it seemed - so recently - that he was the pre-anointed nominee, are having uncomfortable second thoughts.Reuse content