Today’s Wisconsin primary was, a couple weeks ago, supposed to be the make-or-break moment for the Dean campaign. The New York Times, never a friend of the candidate, gives a pretty bleak assessment:

Dr. Dean was preparing to return to his home in Burlington, Vt., to plan what shape his campaign might take now as he absorbed the loss of his campaign chairman, Steven Grossman, to the Kerry campaign and the prospect that other of his senior aides would leave as soon as the votes were counted here on Tuesday. Throughout the day, he veered between defiance — when a crowd in Madison chanted, “We want Dean,” he responded, “Well if you vote for him, you’ll have him” — and doubt about what his future held for him should he lose again on Wednesday.

“I still have some hope of being the nominee,” Dr. Dean said at one point, as he encountered repeated questions from reporters about whether he could survive the vote in Wisconsin. At another point he said: “We’re just going to have to see how we do, but, I’ll have plenty to say after Wisconsin depending on whether we win or lose.” “Let me remind you all that I have more delegates than everyone else in this race except John Kerry,” Dr. Dean told reporters, an edge of anger in his voice. “So I think the campaign obituaries that some of you have been writing are a little misplaced. ”

…Still, Dr. Dean sounded at times as if a burden was being lifted from his shoulders. He avoided the harsh criticism of Mr. Kerry that he had raised proudly the week before, instead praising both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards as “fine people.” He refused to answer a routine question about whether he would have authorized the use of nuclear weapons were he in the shoes of Harry S. Truman, his favorite president, explaining, “I just don’t feel like it.”

High-level aides in the campaign said they expect Dr. Dean to keep his name on the ballot — part of his reluctance to quit, some say, was hearing that it would be erased if he conceded. The aides also said they think Dr. Dean will use his e-mail list of supporters to raise money for other Democrats…

“I know what all of us think he ought to do,” one senior aide said. “But he needs to decide whether he should do it first, and when and how. Maybe it’s Wednesday, maybe it’s Thursday, maybe it’s Friday, maybe it’s not for two more weeks. Anybody who says they do know is lying to you. He’s going to get there eventually, but I don’t know when.”

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