Last week, with the conventional wisdom holding that Gov. Howard Dean’s candidacy was in dire straits coming off his third-place finish in Iowa, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote in a news analysis article that “It is questionable whether Dean can survive a loss in New Hampshire next week.”

Now, with Dean’s numbers recovering and polls showing him running second in New Hampshire, Balz is revising his own expectations a bit. Like the pet shop owner in the famous Monty Python skit, Balz is now writing that Dean isn’t dead yet, even if he loses in New Hampshire — he’s just pining for California.

In his page one story today, Balz revises Balz, along these lines: “For those candidates who did not win either of the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Feb. 3 may offer one last chance to revive their candidacies.” Later in the piece, he notes that “Since Dean’s third-place finish in Iowa, the campaign’s approach calls for a strong finish in New Hampshire, survival on Feb. 3 and a major effort in the March 2 round that includes contests in California, New York and Ohio. ‘It’s a seven-week fight, not a seven-state fight,’ said Dean adviser Steve McMahon.” Balz continues, “Dean’s advisers fought off questions about whether a loss in New Hampshire, where the former governor once had a strong lead, would sink his hopes for the nomination.” (Ironically, Balz also notes that “the campaigns are wrestling with questions of … how to manage expectations to preserve their political viability coming out of the next round of events.”)

Balz also writes that the Dean campaign faces budget problems. Noting that “Dean pulled down his television ads in the Feb. 3 states after Iowa,” he then observes, “… his rivals sense Dean has little money left.”

Just a few paragraphs later, however, Balz gives this speculation the gloss of fact, stating flat-out: “Dean may be low on money, but his union backers will supplement what his campaign can spend.”

But then, Balz doesn’t appear to be one to let a little speculation stand in the way of a good story.

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.