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Dean will leave the presidential race
if he does not win Wisconsin, he says

FLINT, Mich. -- Howard Dean told his supporters today that he must win the Feb. 17 Wisconsin primary or else he will drop out of the Democratic presidential race.

 

''The entire race has come down to this: we must win Wisconsin,'' the former Vermont governor wrote in an e-mail distributed in the early morning hours today. ''We will get a boost this weekend in Washington, Michigan, and Maine, but our true test will be the Wisconsin primary. A win there will carry us to the big states of March 2 and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything less will put us out of this race.''

The e-mail directly contradicts statements Dean has made repeatedly in recent days in which he vowed to stay in the race at least through the March 2 ''Super Tuesday'' contests in 10 states – including Massachusetts -- and even the March 9 contest.

Dean declared repeatedly that he was focused solely on collecting convention delegates - not necessarily winning early primaries and caucuses - and would not leave the race before any candidate collected the majority of delegates necessary to win the party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.

There are 4,322 delegate votes up for grabs; 2,162 are necessary for the nomination. US Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Massachusetts, is in the lead with 260 delegates; Dean is second with 121, according to the latest Associated Press tally. (More information about delegates.)

In his e-mail, Dean said the campaign had to start television advertising in Wisconsin markets on Monday in order to win the race. ''To do that I need your help to raise $700,000 by Sunday. Please contribute $50 today so that we can reserve the air time,'' Dean wrote.

Dean has not been on the air since the New Hampshire primary and skipped advertising in all seven states that held primaries and caucuses on Tuesday because of a shortage of cash.

''All that you have worked for these past months is on the line on a single day in a single state,'' Dean wrote. ''We have come so far to change our political process and restore our democracy - we can't stop now.''

One Dean rival, US Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, laid down a similar marker and boosted his campaign by achieving it. After a fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the senator declared he had to win Tuesday's South Carolina primary or be forced from the race. Edwards’s supporters responded and he placed first in the contest ahead of Kerry.

Such e-mails and web appeals have been particularly effective for Dean, whose candidacy has been supported by a large number of young people and web-savvy individuals. Last year, his campaign raised a record $41 million, much of it through similar electronic appeals.

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

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