The Democratic candidate Howard Dean was yesterday desperately trying to refashion his campaign as polls showed his rival John Kerry surging into the lead in next week's crucial New Hampshire primary.
Mr Dean met senior aides at his home in Vermont on Wednesday and drew up plans to soften his speeches, appear more statesmanlike and try to overcome the negative effects of a his now-notorious concession speech in Des Moines that many critics are referring to as the "Iowa yell".
With several polls giving Mr Kerry, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, a lead of 10 points over Mr Dean, the former Vermont governor has decided to focus on domestic issues, run a more traditional campaign and try to dampen the angry rhetoric that has been the trademark of his candidature. Last night, as part of his makeover, he and his wife - who has been noticeably absent from the campaign trail - were due to give a prime-time television interview to ABC's Diane Sawyer.He was also expected to give a more muted performance in a televised debate against the other Democrat candidates in New Hampshire.
But an uphill battle faces the former front-runner if he is to recapture the momentum that has been seized by Mr Kerry. Mr Dean's aides talk of having the funding and organisation that would allow them to contest upcoming primaries in South Carolina, Missouri and Arizona regardless of what happens in New Hampshire. In reality if Mr Dean comes anything less a good second in the so-called "granite state" it is hard to see his campaign continuing.
With John Edwards, who came second in Iowa, also gaining ground in New Hampshire, and with the retired general Wesley Clark snapping at Mr Dean's heels, the Vermont doctor is going to require a vast turnaround of fortunes to avoid his support falling apart.
Much of that has to do with the speech he gave on Monday evening in Des Moines when it emerged he had received just 18 per cent of the vote, placing him in a poor third position behind Mr Kerry and Mr Edwards. Determined to rouse his supporters, many of whom had travelled from out of the state, Mr Dean rolled up his sleeves and delivered an impassioned, apparently unscripted battle cry, promising not to give up.
"Not only are we going to New Hampshire ... we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York," he cried. "And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we're going to Washington DC to take back the White House. Yeahhhhhhh."
Critics of Mr Dean, both Republicans and Democrats, have seized on the speech as evidence of the candidate's "anger", and cable TV channels have played it repeatedly. The muckraking Drudge Report website offered readers an audio clip of the speech under the headline "Dean Goes Nuts", while the Los Angeles Times website has been one of many to include a speeded remix of Mr Dean's speech set against a pounding dance track. The comedians David Letterman and Jay Leno have already made the shriek a staple of their late-night shows.
Mr Dean has defended the speech, telling reporters: "There were 3,500 screaming kids in that room who'd worked their hearts out for me in Iowa, all of them waving an American flag. I thought I owed it to them to buck up their spirits."
But there is real danger for Mr Dean that the speech will become a moment that defines his campaign. Andrew Smith, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, said the speech would stand alongside 1972 Democratic candidate Edmund Muskie purportedly crying on the campaign trail, or Bob Dole in 1988 telling his fellow Republican George Bush Snr to "stop lying about my record". Other moments that have defined campaigns include Mr Dole falling from a rostrum in his 1996 campaign against the "youthful" incumbent Bill Clinton and Al Gore being ordered to spice up his "lacklustre" 2000 presidential run by kissing his wife in front of the cameras.
The speech has been a gift for those who claim Mr Dean does not have the personal qualities required for the highest office in the nation. Mr Smith added: "I think it crystallised a lot of concerns voters in Iowa, as well we voters in New Hampshire, had about Mr Dean's potential temperament as a president." The dilemma for Mr Dean is that the anger and outspokenness that have been criticised are exactly the qualities that attract many of his supporters, who say that is why he stands out from the rest.
A conversation between a supporter of Mr Dean and a supporter of Mr Edwards as they queued at Des Moines airport on Tuesday morning encapsulated that dilemma. When the Edwards supporter claimed Mr Dean had to cool his temper, he was told: "I was there. I didn't see it that way. We were urging him on."Reuse content