KERRY TEAM GROWS AS PRIMARY WIN APPEARS CERTAIN
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Manchester, New Hampshire
WITH THE JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN IN MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 25, 2004 -- With Sen. John Kerry's reinvigorated troops still growing in number and enthusiasm, the campaign headquarters in a restored six-story red-brick mill building on the Merrimack River here is getting crowded.
Staffers have already hung out a sign blocking half of an enormous loft-style office for themselves. A harried set of ever-changing receptionists try to field phones that never stop ringing, greet volunteers that never stop coming, handle news crews that never stop filming and yet stay on top of a campaign that had grown out of the 4,000 sq. ft. loft days ago. They cheer the entrances of war hero Max Cleland, direct a near-constant stream of pizza deliveries and erupt in applause as Kerry scores another point on television.
From all over the country, from colleges and hamlets and big cities and small, young and old, we are the Kerry Travelers - people joining the campaign from as far away as California and even overseas, hundreds of us every day. All need to be housed and placed in campaign jobs, something Johanna Voss and Cathy Welker are struggling to do as the numbers constantly grow.
Can any candidate ever have too many volunteers? Not really. The overflow - and it's become substantial - are steered out to union halls and office space in the picturesque nearby communities of New Hampshire's Southern Tier, places with historic names like Derry, Nashua, Bedford, Salem, Londonderry and Concord, and put to work delivering literature, standing at intersections waving signs in 10- degree weather, manning phone banks to fuel Kerry's soaring popularity, passing flyers to shoppers in shopping malls and the myriad other small tasks that build a campaign for the presidency. While the great majority of New Hampshire residents live down here, the Kerry campaign has reached into the furthest and most remote communities in the state by carefully managing the flow of volunteers.
According to polls - which Kerry himself has warned supporters not to rely on - the handsome, craggy-faced junior U.S. Senator from Boston has taken a commanding 19 percent lead over Howard Dean, and a three-point lead over President George W. Bush in a Newsweek poll that will be released in tomorrow's edition of the magazine. A news report on Fox25 from Boston at 10 p.m. last night was an overwhelming signal of Kerry's clear dominance of the Granite State campaign.
In fact, someone has posted a newspaper photo that contrasts Kerry's profile with the state's signature image of a granite rock formation in New Hampshire's White Mountains affectionately known as "The Old Man of the Mountain" near the entrance on an office wall. The resemblance is remarkable, and the fact that the formation crumbled suddenly last year after gazing raptly for centuries across these hills stirs me to remember aloud the old principle that two like objects can't occupy the same space at the same time. John Kerry's face, by all appearances, is about to be carved in the stone of memory on history's great rock, for New Hampshire and for all of us.
First came a story on the remarkable hockey game Kerry played Saturday afternoon in the company of former Bruin stars Ray Borque and Cam Neely, scoring two easy goals in front of a cheering crowd that jammed the JFK Arena to the bursting point. There has probably never been a more telegenic candidate, and the vigorous workout on ice was a singular display of his youthful, charismatic appeal. Then came the New Hampshire polls. Then came the Newsweek results.
It was the kind of coverage you get when even Rupert Murdoch sees the writing on the wall. On Face the Nation Sunday morning, Kerry was in presidential mode, wearing a navy blue blazer with a powder blue shirt and stunning powder-and-white blue sik tie. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer let him go on uninterrupted for minmutes about the failings of the Bush administration in foreign affairs and domestic policy; CNN ran him front and center; he was everywhere.
"He is huge," one staffer said, shaking his head in amazement at a reversal of fortune unlike any other in American political history. Never has any candidate come from so far back in the polls and triumphed so soundly over so many well-qualified and well-funded Democratic contenders. Only a month ago, the story of the day was how Kerry had mortgaged his longtime Boston home to stay in the race after campaign shake-ups. At campaign headquarters last night, I had to wonder how America's best hope for new leadership would keep from peaking too early. After all, the very fluid South Carolina primary lies ahead, and North Carolina's Sen. John Edwards has strong appeal there; then come key primaries in Michigan and smaller ones Howard Dean enumerated in his amazing rant in Iowa.
Front-runner status is perilous in any race, and in this one expectations are growing so quickly that managing Kerry's popularity will have to become a full-time job for legions of people. But John Kerry is not known for his missteps; if anything, he is faulted for being too careful about his words and positions. That is an important quality in a president, yet one that can tire voters and wear out enthusiasm among volunteers. None of that shows any signs of happening, though, because for most of us who have followed Kerry's career for a long time - I've been a supporter since 1971 - a new John Kerry is emerging, one who is happier and more at ease with himself than the man we've know for decades.
The change was most evident in Iowa on caucus night, when his victory speech was streaked with a smile that suddenly erased 30 years from his face. Now 60, he looked for long moments like the 27-year-old war hero and anti-war leader who 33 years ago sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and asked who wanted to be "the last to die for a mistake" in Vietnam. But he was happier than that young man; he was as happy as he's ever been. It woke an amazing energy in him, and he has blossomed in its fountain like a fresh white lily in a country pond.
My voice is growing hoarse - my wife thinks I've got a cold - from spending 15 hours on the telephone calling voters from phone banks in Manchester and Londonderry. My biggest regret is that I haven't been able to spend more time talking politics and chemical engineering with my host, George Combes, and his wife, Cynthia. Even with a fast cable modem, loading The American Reporter takes plenty of time, and the campaign eats up the rest like the birthday cake they delivered just a couple of hours before midnight to Eric Schultz, a 24-year-old staffer who was lucky to find time even at that hour on a Saturday night to eat a piece of it.
Now I'm off to an intersection somewhere to wave signs and cheer in the nine-degree weather (and they say here that's it's "going to get cold" in the next few days), and as impossible as that sounds I'd rather be there than in the warm confort of this beautiful home. I've been waiting for 33 years for my generation and John Kerry to come of age, bear out or visions and bring America to its fullest promise, and now the days are like minutes as they pass.
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.