Vol. 11, No. 2,553 - The American Reporter - January 5, 2005

Campaign Trail

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Manchester, New Hampshire

WITH THE JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN IN MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 23, 2004 -- Fresh from the 65-degree weather on Florida's Gulf Coast, you'd think the biting cold here in The Granite State would have been the most compelling issue for me in my first day as a volunteer with the John Kerry for President campaign. It wasn't.

Although I've been away from cold weather for almost all of the past 30 years, the excitement of getting involved in a presidential campaign that is on a remarkable upswing was far more interesting. And the temperature here last week was -17, the coldest in history. This week's 20-degree weather is hardly news.

Former Veterans Administration chief and ex-U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia joined fellow Vietnam veterans on a John Kerry phone bank Friday.
Photo: Joe Shea

New Hampshire's main city is just 55 miles north of Boston, so it took only a short time to get here from Logan Airport east of Boston; despite the cold weather and heaps of snow on the ground the roads were clear and fast. Downtown Manchester is a pretty small place compared to other well-known cities, and it took just a phone call to find my way to the huge restored mill complex - one of those big, red-brick buildings that have lined the Merrimack River for a century - and find my way to the big, bustling and pretty basic campaign headquarters. The place was jumping with volunteers and staffers and media, and finding people was a little tough. I was interviewed by a tv reporter within minutes of arriving.

I told the reporter I'd stood in a small group with John Kerry in the Spring of 1971 when he famously tossed back his war ribbons as one of the co-founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and then got to know his sister Peggy through my friend and colleague at the Village Voice, Lucian K. Truscott IV. In 1986, I had started The Committee to Draft U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and put on a Veterans Day benefit in Hollywood headlined by seminal punk rocker John Doe and attended by Dennis Hopper, Newsweek and 250 of my closest friends. I put together a second Evening with Sir Stephen Spender at the downtown L.A. Theater, and the movement really got a boost from a top spot in Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Daily News columnist Tom Poster's column. After Kerry decided not to run, he sent me a great letter I have kept framed all these years as I waited and hoped that he would run. I finally got choked up and told them, "Seeing a man become President is a great American experience."

After meeting campaign manager Michael Meehan and getting introduced to the my volunteer coordinator, Cathy Welker, the first stop of the day was St. Anselm's College, a small Catholic coed school where last night's debate was held. With Rick Agajanian and Vince Carvell and Rachel, a volunteer from Kurtztown, Pa., we drove over to the college with our signs in the back and followed Rick's instincts to the end of a dark street lined by small beautiful homes.

There we ran into other Kerry volunteers who had already unloaded dozens of high four-poster signs and slowly formed up into a sort of marching order. It was a good mile from there to the debate, and we used it making up cheers and joking and enjoying ourselves. But when we got to the college, we had to wait for about a half hour for the Real Deal Express, John Kerry's bus. We had a hard time getting together on the cheers, but when the bus finally appeared we spontaneously just started chanting, Kerr-y, Kerr-y, Kerr-y! He was thoughtful enough to get off the bus and come shake hands with a lot of us. I reached out and he took my hand, and I said, "Joe Shea from Florida". He'd walked a few yards forward when he suddenly turned back and pointed at me, apparently reminded of our meeting in Florida a few weeks earlier, when he had invited me to come to Iowa.

A substantial contingent of firefighters had been waiting outside the debate hall for an hour or more when we arrived, unseen by them, and formed up behind the bus in what seemed like a vast army of wildly cheering supporters. We did the Brazilian soccer chant in our version, singing "Ole, ole, ole, JK, All the way," and shouted "Who're we for? Kerry '04." I came up with, "Live Free - Kerry!," since the state's famous motto is "Live Free or Die," and because John is opposed to some provisions of the PATRIOT Act. I worried that might be misinterpreted, though. My best effort was, "Why so merry? We're for Kerry!" to which someone quickly replied, "Why so mean? They're for Dean!"

But as we came over the crest of that hill and looked down at the sea of cars and other campaigns below, we felt ecstatic. The John Kerry campaign had grown enormously and the Howard Dean campaign had shrunk. As I went around picking up any of ours that fell, their campaign signs were left lying trampled in the street.

There were a handful people there for Wesley Clark, (and even a crew one for Patriots coach Bill Bellichek who got converted to the Kerry team), but they were only a tenth of the Dean effort and a a fiftieth of ours. One Dean guy came after one of our older volunteers so I moved in and broke that up, and then down at the bottom of the hill one of our Vietnam Veterans Against the War volunteers became enraged at someone who bumped into him carrying a George Bush sign.

He was an older guy who was furious that America is losing soldiers over there. I only calmed him down by reminding him of how the Nixon administration sent Cuban provocateurs in to the VVAW encampment in Constitution Park who tried to start fights and display drugs to make the vets look bad in from of tv cameras. But the clashes last night were brief and harmless. As Stacy, the young, stentorian-voiced woman who led the marchers had told us, the Kerry campaign was a magnaminous and upbeat one; we should not throw insults around at other people's candidates but invite them to join us. I did just that and collected a few new volunteers as we headed down the hill.

Once the debate got started, we headed back to downtown Manchester to the Black Brimmer, a big, warm, old-fashioned pub I remembered seeing on television during 2000 and wishing even then that I could visit the place some day. It was packed, too, and the crowd of about 300 was still charged up from the march as we watched the debate. There were a lot of big firemen and pretty girls and all kinds of ordinary people, volunteers who had laid down their workaday lives like me to pick up a campaign we believe in. Teresa Heinz Kerry came about 15 minutes ahead of the candidate and was introduced by one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Carole King.

Mrs. Kerry is from Mozambique, and she told us that her life in Africa had never accustomed her to the vast energy and promise of an American presidential campaign. She was very low-key while being very warm, and really different than the sort of political wife that Pat Nixon was, for instance. I remember meeting Mrs. Nixon at a dinner when her husband was out of office and noting that the smile on her face never changed. Many women who follow their husbands' political lives seem sort of forced and artificial, but there was not even a hint of that in Mrs. Kerry. And Carole King didn't look only a few years older than she did in the '60s, when her "Tapestry" album became the best-selling record of all time.

John Kerry arrived with the leader of the firefighters' union and Bob Shrum, a well-known campaign strategist. "Kerr-y, Kerr-y, Kerr-y," we chanted.

"I have just two debate questions for you," he roared. "Are you sober?" We cheered. "And the second one is, Why?" he came back. We laughed and cheered like loons.

He was trying to save his voice, which he lost briefly on the last day of the Iowa campaign, so he kept it short. "I don't believe in polls," he told us. "I am going after every vote, and what we are going to do is work, and work, and work" until Election Day is over.

I was one of the Kerry Travelers fortunate enough to find a home with campaign supporters, and the 20-minute drive from Manchester took me way out into the country to the home of Cynthia and George Combes, an engineer who built their beatiful two-story Colonial home himself. After getting two hours' sleep the night before, I was tired enough to slee. After a great steaming bowl of homemade beef stew and fresh pumpkin bread,

I was definitely ready for sleep. Our first "viz" - "visibility" - was down the road a few miles on a bridge overlooking Interstate 93 at Exit 4, at 7:30 a.m. in, yes, comfortable 20-degree cold. Fortunately, I had a story to write. This morning, I looked at the Los Angeles Times on the Internet; "Kerry turned in one of his most solid debate performances," Ron Brownstein, whom I'd met in Florida, wrote. And his team had, too.

Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter, the original Internet daily newspaper. His observations are his own and do not represent the views or positions of the Kerry campaign.

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.