Dean was not the first front-runner in 2004, either. I forget who was, but I know that Dean came on as an insurgent alternative to the early FRB (to use a hash term). Dean rose quickly and fell even quicker.
Kerry was the first front runner.
Dean was not the first front-runner in 2004, either.”
You might be thinking of Gephardt who was sort of the “frontrunner” until Dean announced. Once any actual campaigning began, ie, by summer of 2003, Gephardt was history and Dean caught on like wildfire. So I’m not sure there was ever any substance there for Gephardt. It’s just that no one else was running yet.
By June 2003, Dean was already on TV (the first candidate to do so). In July of that year, he won the Moveon.org “primary” and beat the stuffing out of the other candidates. In July of that year, he outraised everyone. By the fall of that year, Dean had the most money, the best organization and the most intense anti-war following. By Christmas, Dean had been endorsed by Tom Harkin and Gore.
Bottom line, Dean was a long, long time frontrunner in Iowa (like Romney). Then came January and the rest is history.