On Native Ground
LOOKING BACK AT IOWA, LOOKING AHEAD AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Is it all over for Howard Dean?
Is John Kerry back from the political dead?
Do John Edwards and Wesley Clark really have that much support?
Those are the questions that will get answered Tuesday in the New Hampshire Primary.
I was surprised by Kerry and Edwards' 1-2 finish in the Iowa Caucus. But on second glance, perhaps it wasn't that much of a shock.
The things that put Dean at the front of the Democratic pack - opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, his lack of insider credentials and his willingness to hammer President Bush at every opportunity - seemed to work against him in Iowa.
But it wasn't so much that Iowans rejected the so-called "anger" of Dean as it was that Dean was the recipient of some of the most concentrated sliming of a candidate by the press and by his opponents that we've seen in recent years.
Sam Smith, editor and publisher of The Progressive Review and a long-time observer of Washington politics, nailed it when he wrote a few days ago that Dean's biggest problem is his failure to properly bow down to the permanent power culture.
"Dean failed to accept the fact that before you can get elected by the people you have to be selected by the crowd in charge," wrote Smith. "You don't just run for president in the Democratic Party (unless you're a Sharpton or Kucinich doomed from the start); you ask permission nicely just like Clinton did. Show the elite that you want to come to Washington to serve them, not lead others. ... It's bad enough when a Georgia peanut farmer like Carter tries it, but Dean came out of the establishment himself so his crime was worse: betrayal rather than naivete. And he paid the price.
"It's not political. Washington is a place where more things are done illegally or under the table than just about anywhere in the world. Where your laws are made - and broken - as Mark Russell used to say. And it's the world's most powerful private club. If you want to get ahead here the first thing you've got to do is shut your mouth. And show you respect the people who really run the place. Dean didn't do that."
Kerry is part of that private club and is in better position to take advantage of being a member. But the early part of the campaign was less about the Washington club and more about the people standing outside peering through the windows. They saw how the club members betrayed them with the club's support of President Bush's war plans. They flocked to Dean last summer and fall because he wasn't in the club.
This spooked the Democratic Party establishment as well as their handmaidens in the press. Heaven forbid we elect a candidate who rejects milking big money donors and offers an alternatives to the tapped-out policies that have led to complete Republican control of all three branches of government.
The press was happy to help. Most of the coverage of Dean in the last three months looks like reporters dusted off the stuff they wrote about John McCain and changed a few words around. The steady drumbeat of "Is Dean Nuts?" stories had its effect in terms of raising questions about Dean's temperament.
But we know that if Dean was as wooden on the campaign trail as he was when he was governor of Vermont, the campaign reporters would've dusted off the "Al Gore is stiff and boring" stories and recycled them for this campaign. As an outsider who didn't suck up to the press, there's no way Dean is going to get a fair shake. If it is said that politics is show business for ugly people, what does that make journalism?
Dean hasn't been a great campaigner and his long-time tendency to be blunt to the point of brusqueness doesn't always go over well. But Kerry hasn't been much better as a campaigner. "Aloof" seems to be his middle name. But what put him over in Iowa, besides vigorously playing the war hero card, was that Democrats there badly want to beat Bush and didn't think that Dean is up to the task.
Kerry has the best credentials and the most experience in the Democratic field. But Dean trumped Kerry early with a better and more creative campaign organization and with his opposition to the Iraq invasion. Those two advantages for Dean got taken away when Kerry finally got his campaign organized and when Saddam Hussein got captured.
Has the anti-war issue really faded from the campaign? As long as American troops are dying in Iraq, I think that it is. President Bush may not think so, but the justification for the invasion was built upon lies and the whole world now knows this. This, more than any other issue, goes to the heart of why Bush must be defeated in November.
So how will things go in New Hampshire? On the surface, it looks like the home field advantage goes to Dean and Kerry, who leads by 15 points in the latest polls. In reality, the advantage goes more to Kerry.
More than half of New Hampshire's population lives in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties - the two southern counties that are part of the Boston media market. People in southern New Hampshire - many of whom are transplants from Massachusetts - get their news from the Boston television stations and read the Boston newspapers. They know John Kerry well. Vermont doesn't register in the consciousness of the average voter in this part of the Granite State, except as a socialist ecotopia filled with granola munching, Volvo-driving, latte-sipping, Birkenstock-wearing hippies.
Dean got his early support in the Connecticut River valley towns nearest to the Vermont border - such as Keene, Walpole and Hanover. The Boston media has little influence in these places, and John Kerry's accomplishments don't have a lot of clout here.
New Hampshire really is two states. The cities and towns within 50 miles of the Massachusetts border are where the money and political influence is and it's where the candidates spend most of their time. North of this line, the cities and towns are for the most part more blue collar, less affluent and more conservative. You'll probably not see Dean or Kerry draw much of the northern vote. This election, like many in New Hampshire, will be won or lost in Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth - the major cities in the southern tier.
If newspaper endorsements are any indication, Dean is in trouble. The largest and most conservative newspaper, The Union Leader of Manchester, predictably went with the most conservative candidate - Joe Lieberman. But the two other major daily newspapers - the Concord Monitor and the Nashua Telegraph - endorsed Kerry, as did The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. The only endorsement from a major paper that Dean picked up was from The Keene Sentinel.
The other big thing to watch is how many Republicans and independents vote in the Democratic primary. New Hampshire allows voters to switch parties on primary day. With no race on the GOP side, there is talk of Republicans switching their affiliation to raise some mischief for the Democrats.
Opinion polls in New Hampshire taken over the last few days show Kerry gaining a lot of support at Dean's expense. My guess for how they'll finish is Kerry, Dean, Clark and Edwards with only a relative handful of votes separating Kerry and Dean. Clark will be a strong third and Lieberman will be a distant fifth.
I believe that the only certain outcome after New Hampshire will be that the race won't be over. There are seven more primaries and caucuses on Feb. 3, and 12 more primaries in the days between Feb. 6 and Feb. 27. There will be about 1,500 delegates up for grabs in the 11 states that hold primaries on March 2. These contests, more than Iowa and New Hampshire, will determine the eventual nominee.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.