It remains to be seen if the day of the Wisconsin primary goes down in Howard Dean's history as the beginning of the end – or just the end. Dean began his day early appearing on multiple network morning shows. He stuck to his guns insisting his campaign will continue past Wisconsin.
Much of his staff, however, has no reason to believe him. Various Dean staffers are planning vacations, taking off on road trips or simply taking a break at the nearest bar. While they have not received official notice, many staffers simply assume they will not have a job beyond this week.
After the morning shows, Dean headed out for some Election Day campaigning. He stopped by Mr. Perkins Family Restaurant, where most of the breakfast crowd is African-American. Willie Perkins opened the restaurant over 30 years ago and describes it as a "community hangout" where politicians often visit at election time.
Dean stuck to basics as he greeted the local patrons: "I'm Howard Dean. I'm running for president. Nice to meet you."
Then Dean spent a number of hours working privately with staff. The governor's plans had him headed for Madison for his Election Night party in the evening, but he made one more Milwaukee stop on the way.
In recent days, Dean had become a fan of Sprecher's root beer from the Milwaukee brewery owned by Randy Sprecher. (Someone stashed some in his van.) So he took Sprecher up on an offer to tour the brewery.
Sprecher walked Dean through the brewery hot spots and provided the governor with samples of both root beer and cream soda. Dean seemed to enjoy both. "The cream soda is dynamite. It makes a big difference when it's right off the line," he said. (The brewery also does beer but Dean does not drink alcohol.)
In Madison, Dean visited a polling station where he joked with young supporters, asking some if they voted for Lyndon LaRouche. They shouted "No!" but didn't really seem to get the joke.
Charlie Grapski of Gainesville, Fla., who was one of the "Perfect Stormers" in Iowa, was at the polling place to see Dean. "Don't stop. Keep going," he told the governor. "We're always with you."
At about 9:05 in the evening, Dean took the stage in the ballroom of Madison's Concourse Hotel to tell his supporters the same thing.
"I know that some of you are disappointed because we didn't do as well as we hoped we would do in Wisconsin," Dean told the packed room, referring to his distant third-place showing in Tuesday's primary. "The truth is, change is tough."
Dean made the theme of the night clear. "We are not done," he declared to the crowd four separate times.
While Dean was careful not to give any indications of just what direction his campaign would take, he was clear about what he feels it has already done. "You have already written the platform of the Democratic Party for this election," he told his supporters.
"A year ago, Democrats were falling all over each other to vote for the war in Iraq. They sure don't talk like that now," he said. "A year ago the Democrats were accepting reckless budget deficits and huge tax cuts... They don't talk like that anymore."
Dean has said he had three goals when he entered the race: change the Democratic Party, change the country and win the presidency. The final goal will not be reached – not this year anyway. Whether or not Dean will reach his second goal remains to be seen. But as for his first, Howard Dean succeeded and tonight, he proudly said so.
"Finally we've got a Democratic Party that can talk about its roots again, its core issues again. Finally the Democrats in Washington have learned that they can stand up to the most right-wing president that we've had in my life time," Dean said. "And guess what? If you stand up and say what you believe, the voters actually like it."
On Tuesday night in Wisconsin, Howard Dean left afloat many questions about his future, but he began to write his own legacy.