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THE LOYAL BULLDOG CAMP

Yale roommate exhorts Dean

RACINE, Wis. -- Ralph Dawson was there that warm day in June, when Howard Dean basked in the Vermont sunshine and the cheers of 5,000 people just up from Lake Champlain, while declaring his presidential candidacy.

And Dawson was there again yesterday, as his college roommate spent a midwinter morning again urging on his supporters, though this time with notably less vigor, and before a crowd of 150 that occupied only a third of a cavernous hall along Lake Michigan.

In a formal sense, Dawson was in both places to lay testament to Dean's talents as a leader, and to his commitment to the diversity of the Democratic Party. He was one of two black roommates in Dean's quad for their freshman year at Yale. More personally, Dawson took time from his job as a corporate lawyer in New York both to boost his classmate at the campaign's liftoff, and to help comfort and direct him as the campaign appears to be winding down.

And while he stated at the outset of an interview that Dean's campaign "is not over yet," other remarks underscored the fading Dean aspirations.

"I can't say what the best thing is for him to do next Wednesday or Thursday," Dawson said as Dean spoke in the background, "but I think that in a number of respects, Howard has already won."

Dawson talked of Dean's energy and bluntness, which combined into opposition to the Iraq war. And he chuckled as he considered how many of Dean's rivals had mimicked both the former Vermont governor's antiadministration rhetoric, as well as his "backbone for confrontation."

"Howard Dean is not leaving the scene, and what he brought to the scene is not leaving either," Dawson said. "Over time, he's going to build an effective way he can push forward these issues, most particularly health care.

"He's going to find a way to do something. He's going to start some thing, some organization, that's going to move the ball from where it is to where it needs to go."

Two weeks ago, Dean declared Wisconsin his make-or-break state. The onetime leader in the polls, who has now lost 16 consecutive primaries and caucuses, said winning the 72 convention delegates here would reignite his campaign for the March 2 "Super Tuesday" contests in 10 states. Since, though, his campaign hasn't ignited here, and polls now show him running third.

While Dean continues to brand Kerry a "Washington insider," lately his speeches have contained little of the venom he injected earlier into his Wisconsin campaign, when he railed against Kerry's acceptance of lobbyist donations and branded him a "special-interest clone."

Yesterday, he made only two stops in the state so he could return home to Vermont to watch the final regular-season hockey game of his teenage son, Paul.

At a meeting of African-American ministers in Milwaukee, Dean all but received the endorsement of the mayor, Marvin Pratt. Pratt is on the ballot Tuesday and trails in the polls as well, and he has studiously avoided a formal alliance with any of the presidential contenders.

"Governor Dean has been in the forefront of a number of key issues. He articulates a vision that is different from a number of other candidates," Pratt said.

In his remarks, Dean appealed to black voters in Milwaukee and other Democratic strongholds such as Madison and Green Bay.

"We lost a lot of races in 2002 around this country because we go to the African-American community with three weeks to go and say, `Oh. Can you help us get the vote out?' Well, we're going to start with the African-American community, we're going to start with women, we're going to start with Latinos, we're going to start with labor unions, because we are going to the White House with the people who brought us to the dance."

Later, after speaking in Racine, Dean was asked by a Chicago cable-news station what would happen if he did not win in Wisconsin on Tuesday. "You'll find out on Wednesday," he said.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.

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