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Inside Politics

More mixed signals from Dean camp

Dean makes a point during Sunday night's debate in Milwaukee.
Dean makes a point during Sunday night's debate in Milwaukee.

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Howard Dean
Democratic candidates
America Votes 2004

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean may abandon his Democratic presidential bid if he loses Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, a senior campaign official said Sunday, but Dean himself denied it.

Speaking to supporters Sunday night at a bar near Marquette University, where he had just participated in a debate with other candidates, Dean said: "No, we are not dropping out of the race after Wisconsin." After a burst of applause, he added, "We're in this for the long haul," which elicited more roars of approval.

Earlier, Dean told interviewers he would remain in the race "no matter what."

"The confusion comes from people writing stories that don't know what they're talking about," he told Milwaukee television station WITI. "We're not dropping out after Tuesday, period."

But Dean campaign chairman Steven Grossman, who was also chairman of Democratic front-runner John Kerry's 1996 Senate race, indicated in a story on the New York Times Web site that changes may be in the offing.

"If Howard Dean does not win the Wisconsin primary, I will reach out to John Kerry unless he reaches out to me first," Grossman said.

"I will make it clear that I will do anything and everything I can to help him become the next president, and I will do anything and everything I can to build bridges with the Dean organization."

The Dean campaign called the comments "unsanctioned."

Grossman has not been fired or released from his campaign duties, a campaign spokesman told CNN. However, the Dean campaign is under the assumption that Grossman has already begun reaching out to Kerry.

"We could not have accomplished what we've accomplished without Steve Grossman," the spokesman said. "We wish him well."

According to a Democratic source very familiar with the inner workings of the Kerry campaign, Grossman has not talked to the campaign yet.

In a posting on the Dean blog (Web log) Sunday, Dean campaign manager Roy Neel said: "I just talked to Gov. Dean a few minutes ago and can tell you unequivocally, that no decision has been made about the nature of our campaign after Wisconsin, that he is determined to go forward, keep fighting, to advance the message of this movement all the way, to defeat George Bush, to change American politics."

Neel did not say whether advancing the "message of the movement" meant that Dean would stay in the race as a candidate.

The senior campaign aide said "absolutely no decisions" have been made about what to do after Tuesday's vote -- "none." But the aide said Dean is considering several options in the event he does drop from the race, including setting up a grass-roots organization and working with his supporters to continue influencing the Democratic debate.

Dean has sent mixed messages before: He told supporters February 5 in an e-mail that his campaign could end if he does not win in the state, but later suggested he may continue.

Asked what considerations would go into a possible decision after Tuesday, Dean told CNN affiliate WITI, "Whether we win the Wisconsin primary or not."

But asked whether a poor showing would force him out of the race, Dean said Sunday in a separate interview, with Wisconsin Public Television, "We're in no matter what."

Dean, the front-runner in national polls before voting began, has won none of the 17 primaries or caucuses held so far. Polls in Wisconsin, where 72 delegates are up for grabs, show him trailing -- with Kerry, the national front-runner, far ahead.

The senior campaign adviser told CNN Dean has several options. His campaign is still pulling in contributions, and Dean is aware his hard-core supporters don't want him to give up, the adviser said.

However, Dean and his campaign leaders know that continuing a campaign that has won no states could harm his reputation down the road, the adviser said. Dean told Fox News Sunday he has no schedule past Wednesday, saying, "We're going to reassess."

He added, "We're going to keep going, no matter what, because I think there are a lot of people all over this country who want to rebuild the party and rebuild America in a different way."

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