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Dean Says He Needs Wisconsin Victory To Remain in Primaries

By Adam Nagourney And Jodi Wilgoren

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Reeling from a string of defeats and rising disillusionment among his supporters, Howard Dean said Thursday that his presidential bid would end if he failed to win the Democratic primary in Wisconsin in 12 days.

Dean, the former governor of Vermont, made his announcement in a dramatic overnight e-mail message to supporters. He was bowing to the reality of the collapse of a candidacy that had once seemed so far advanced that his aides had discussed whom he might pick as a running mate.

“The entire race has come down to this: we must win Wisconsin,” Dean wrote in an e-mail message that included a plea for $50 contributions to finance television advertisements there. “Anything less will put us out of this race.”

Dean’s advisers said that in choosing Wisconsin to make his last stand, he had fixed on the state that was the birthplace of the Progressive movement and that had a history of supporting liberal causes. They expressed optimism that Dean would get his candidacy on track there and emerge as the chief alternative to Sen. John Kerry, who won seven of the first nine Democratic contests.

Still, Democratic strategists said it was unclear how much Dean would gain from a win in Wisconsin on Feb. 17. By then, he is likely to have gone through 16 state contests without a victory. Kerry seems poised to win contests this weekend in Michigan, Maine and perhaps Washington state, and is making an aggressive effort to win contests next Tuesday in Tennessee and Virginia.

The fight in Wisconsin is now shaping up as perhaps the last big battle of the 2004 Democratic nomination campaign. Aides to Kerry, Dean and the other two major Democratic contenders, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, said Thursday they were preparing full-scale campaigns to win Wisconsin.