FIRED UP IN FREEZING NEW HAMPSHIRE, KERRY LOOKS SOUTH
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
WITH THE JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, Jan. 26, 2004 -- Primary Day is just hours away in New Hampshire and the race is tightening once again, with U.S. Sen. John Kerry still 11 points ahead in the latest CNN/Gallup Poll survey but a fired-up Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina charging fast toward a possible second-place finish in tomorrow's Democratic presidential primary.
Meanwhile, a snowstorm may be headed for the state, likely bringing lots of snow but relief from temperatures that dipped to -13 F. in Hanover, N.H., the home of Dartmouth College. New Hampshire voters are not deterred by snow or cold weather, and they have a reputation for being both unpredictable and choosy.
Some 15 percent of Granite State voters are said to be undecided, and those voters' last-minute choices are likely to stamp campaigns of some of the seven remaining candidates with a decisive Pass or Fail.
Edwards has enjoyed growing strength as voters who ignored him before his second-place finish in Iowa are charged up by his one-to-one meetings across the state. Meanwhile, former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean is touting his own comeback in email broadcasts, and Sen. Joe Lieberman's support has grown slightly in polls. It now appears that a strong get-out-the-vote effort by Edwards could once again reshape the race and deliver him another second-place finish, energizing his South Carolina campaign. Edwards is likely to do well in Tennessee and Virginia on Feb. 10, too, if he does well in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
For days, the buzz around the state has been about the possibility of a Kerry-Edwards ticket that would appeal to both liberal Eastern and Western voters and to more moderate and conservative Southern voters in key states like Missouri - a possible turning point in November. A few percentage points there could turn the state out of the GOP column and deliver it to a Kerry-Edwards ticket that make a broad appeal to its urban and rural voters, and provide a razor-thing margin of victory in the Electoral College.
Pro-Kerry comments by Edwards last Wednesday night at the St. Anselm's College debate were worked like a precious vein of gold-rich ore for clues to the shape of the race to come, as are comments by Kerry in an Iowa debate that complimented the young North Carolina senator.
While voters here appear to feel that Edwards does not yet have the bearing and experience - he's in his first term in the U.S. Senate - they like his plans for education and his youthful energy.
For John Kerry, whom I followed to Hampton and Summersworth on New Hampshire's freezing Atlantic coast last night, the crowds are almost beyond belief. In Hampton, where Kerry arrived an hour late, about 400 people jammed a firehouse and an overflow hall held 400 more; the second group had to wait a full 2 hours to see him speak for about 20 minutes. And by the time he got to an event in Summersworth on the northeastern border with Maine, where the temperature hovered around 0, a crowd of 600 at the Flagler Community Center had not budged for several hours. The incredible number of people who swarm around him each time he finishes an appearance delay him for another 10 or 15 minutes as he presses on to his next stop.
The Hampton event was a challenge for Kerry, who faced a difficult question asking him to assess the influence of Malcolm X from a tall Tim Robbins lookalike who wore a black cap with a silver "X" on it - a promotional item once handed out at the movie's premieire. Given the missteps some candidates have made - remember Rev. Jesse Jackson's famous dispraging remark about New York? - it appeared that he was being set up. In response, Kerry talked extensively about the social conditions that can foster "extreme" views, while being careful to characterize them as extremist.
Later, I stood beside the senator as the man appraoched the stage and Kerry asked him if he could see the cap.
"How long have you been wearing this," he asked the guy.
"Eight years," he said. Kerry ran his his fingers around the inside rim of the cap, inspecting the waer inside as he did. It looked fairly new, like it had been worn 10 times or so. Could he determine from the wear on it how long the question had been planned? Kerry handed it back.
"It's the first time that's been asked," aide Marvin Nicholson observed later.
Then a tall, bearded, red-haired man with a Norman Rockwell face - but who turned out to be a Lyndon Larouche follower with a speech that elicited a steady series of jeers and groans from listeners around the room.. Kerry finally told him to ask a question and the guy said, "Will you vote for Larouche?"
"No. I don't think he's a viable canddiate," Kerry replied. Later, another Larouche follower, this one an older woman, screeched at him near the end of the event. Larouche has a cadre of supporters here who may well net him .0005 of Tuesday's vote.
A third audience member asked Kerry about his Catholic faith, and the senator responded by quoting a famous line of his Senate predecessor from Massachusetts, President John F. Kennedy. He traced his relationship to the church through childhood to Vietnam, when he said he had fallen away from the Church for a time, and then his gradual return to the faith. He noted that he did not agree with the church on several issues, and yet strongly identified himself with the general faith community. That reply got a supportive buzz from many of the people around me.
In Summersworth, invoking both Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as his inspiration, he gave a well-nuanced answer to a question about finding peace between Israel and Palestine.
Throughout the senator's speeches Sunday there always ran a strong message about his willingness and ability to take on President George W. Bush, who is apparently smarting from some of the criticism he's gotten from all the candidates. His measured but passionate jabs at Bush get cheers and applause over and over again, and now crowds are beginning to take up the punch line of many Kerry speeches as he sums up the Bush campaign's national security edge: "Bring it on!"
Yet the Kerry campaign is not slackening its pace. On Sunday, thousands of volunteers drove up from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to pitch in making phone calls and dropping leaflets, as phone banks took the very last measure of voter patience as they urged them once more to the polls on Tuesday. There may be a sense that this is Kerry's race to lose, and that the challenges from Edwards and Dean are far from finished.
If I had to make a prediction, in fact, I would pick Kerry by six points - about half the separation most polls suggest - over Edwards, about 31 to 25 percent, with Dean falling close to Clark, probably with around 17 percent. Lieberman will be fortunate to finish over 7 percent, and that is three points less than the polls suggest today. A stronger showing here by Kerry could well become a liability in South Carolina. Rather than deliverinmg a bounce, it would set the senator up for a bigger fall.
The challenge for Kerry now becomes to maintain some dominance in the key South Carolina race and six other primaries on Feb. 3. A debate in Charleston, S.C., Thursday night looks like another critical moment for the Kerry as polls suggest that Edwards has taken a two-point lead in the state. Delegates are also up for grabs in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Kerry is well-prepared for the race, however; he told the crowd in Summersworth last night that "$1 million has come in in the last three days alone," and he has gained a very important endorsement from his colleague, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, now the most popular politician in the state, and 27 of the state's legislators.
South Carolina will be a tough nut to crack for Kerry, but a solid second place there will likely suffice to carry him towards the regional primaries a month later. When Florida votes on March 9, the nomination is likely to be a foregone conclusion, but there is enough play left in this race for plenty of surprises. If California proves to be pivotal for Kerry, the general election will be that much more difficult.
For the junior senator from Massachusetts, the most favorable development would be the withdrawal of Lieberman after New Hampshire and of Dean and Edwards after a loss in South Carolina. It would be less helpful if Dean withdrew after New Hampshire, strengthening Edwards in South Carolina, and Edwards will have to acknowledge his second-place status as being virtually permanent if he doesn't win South Carolina by at least five points. Kerry should carry liberal Michigan on my birthday, Feb. 7, while Democrats in Wshington State will probably support him, too.
It remains a joyous and memorable experience to be amid the excitement and energy of all these campaigns in New Hampshire. As a Kerry Traveler, I have enjoyed more proximity to the candidate than many of my fellow volunteers, and finished last night with his aides at a Portsmouth hotel after he clapped me on the back and went up to his room. But I did find time to help with posters at the firefighters union hall for the big event in Londonderry today, Kerry's appearance at the Pinker ton Academy here at 5:30.
I had one question, for Kerry, who was a fan of President Kennedy and also played soccer at Yale.
"Senator, on the White House lawn, will you play touch football or soccer?" I asked.
He looked up from signing an autograph and grinned.
"Soccer," he said.
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.