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Tired of sitting on the fringe in VT, I decided to jump fully into the waterfall of NH politics and traveled to a NH Democrat's house for the weekend. I've been through a number of these primaries (fully engaged in '88 and, especially, '92, not at all in '96, tangentially in '00), and I just couldn't stay away. It was an interesting weekend, and I come away with some new impressions and an appreciation of Clark (but a pessimistic few of his chances) . . . .

Well, to begin at the beginning, on the way down, I took the long route, over rural roads and through towns, to get a sense of the "sign primary." On the way down on Saturday morning, Kerry signs held a small but noticeable lead over Dean signs, with Clark a solid third. Edwards seems not to have paid his printer (no signs), while I saw one lone Lieberman sign, stuck in the snow in an empty field.

I was trying to get down to Laconia (where I was staying) in time to make it to an Edwards event at The Soda Shoppe (a little hamburger place). Alas, my son had a little too much Gatorade, forcing so many stops we missed it (I got there at the end). However, I saw a little and talked to some participants. The man is good. No two ways about it. He has that "I'm havin' fun with y'all. Aren't we together on this?" kind of Southern charm. He really makes that "I know your problems, I empathize, send me to take care of it" kind of connection (by contrast, Dean's connection is more of the "we know what needs to be done, I respect you, now let's go do it" variety. Each has elements of the other, but there is a big difference). But, the venue was small, and they didn't exactly have a crowd overflowing outside. Even the people there, while they liked Edwards, didn't seem convinced about him.

Then, I was off to the house to look through the mailings. Dean's are really, really good. Focused, positive, substantive, attractive. Kerry's are blah (nothing really there), Lieberman's are awful, and Edwards's problems with the printer seem to have extended to mailings (none). Clark's mailings rock. Seriously. Not quite as focused as Dean's, but man, oh, man are they good. Seeing those, and watching Clark a little, I finally got it. I see what all the Clarkistadors see in him. He's really got a great progressive feel to him, in a way that can't be taken back after the election (i.e. it's not just b.s. about "standing up to special interests"). He's still not my guy, but I'm a lot happier abou;t his candidacy. But, unfortunately, he's in big trouble in NH.

NH, the week before the primary, is all about buzz, who has it, who's gaining it, who's losing it. Clark is losing it. He just is having a really hard time cutting through the media clutter. It's sorta ironic for me, now I really like the guy just when he's hitting a rough patch, but there it is. The "just turned Democrat" thing is actually working on him hard, not because of a partisan thing. It's more a suspicion of his motives (one which I don't share, btw, so don't flame me; just reporting what I see). Also, Kerry's bounce took directly from him. Anyway, whatever the reason, he does not get mentioned very much in the news.

Dean, otoh, does. He is dominating the coverage of the primary to a degree that was, frankly, astonishing. Yesterday's Concord Monitor front-page was all Dean (a huge photo and the headline "Dean Regains His Voice"). His riffs on the Iowa speech ("I'm so happy to be here I could just scream {pause} But I won't") lead news casts. The size of his crowds are tremendous. And his campaign has hit a stride that is something to behold. The candidate has struck a balance in his appearances, with short, concise critiques of Bush and his record mixed in with a positive vision of the future backed up with a recitation of his successes as Governor. His ads are better, and, as mentioned above, his mailings are killer. And his supporters are passionate about the coverage of the Iowa speech. But, will it be enough?

Dean's negatives are still pretty high, and Kerry definitely has quite a bit of support, especially institutional support. If there was another few days, I'd say yes, but I don't really think so. But there are signs that the race is changing.

The polls are a little scattered in the difference between the two, but even the most optimistic for Dean still have him losing by a measurable amount. But, the undecideds actually went up over the first half of the weekend, and the number of people saying they may change their mind also went up. Kerry's numbers on the "sure to vote for" question went down from mid-60s to mid-50s. Something like 70% of the undecideds are women, and Dean's interview on Thursday and his focus over the weekend on women's issues got a lot of play and, anecdotally, went over well with women. And Kerry's campaign (at least up to the 60 Minutes interview, which I didn't see) was in run-out-the-clock mode.

It's really a dynamic situation in NH (and don't even ask me about the snow . . . oy). All of the attention is on Dean and Kerry (although Edwards gets a little, too). I think the gap from second to third is going to be bigger than people think, but, in the end, it seems that the Dean campaign's delay in rolling out this new campaign was deadly and allowed his negatives to get too high. He's really climbing up hill. But, I'm not betting the farm on any prediction, and any rock-solid statement of Dean's political death is not to be believed.

Oh, and on the way home and on the same route, Dean signs outnumbered everyone else's by a good margin. Take that for whatever you think it's worth.

Originally posted to BriVT on Mon Jan 26, 2004 at 11:58 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Typos (3.95)
    damn typos. That is, of course, a pessimistic "view" of my new man Clark's chances. Apologies for all other typos, too.

    Well, I guess you can use this to rate, if you want.

  •  Thanks (none)
    Thanks for the account. I like reading first hand accounts, especially when they are balanced (but hopeful) as I think yours was. My other favorite was from someone else here (forget who) who went out to see a voter who had earlier been tagged as a Dean supporter and was dismayed when he came to the house to see a Clark sign out front. He talked to the man for a while, gave him a Primetime tape, and the man said, well, "maybe I'll vote for Dean after all". All I can say is the voters in NH are spoiled spoiled spoiled. Living in PA, I'd love to get that kind of love...

    mythical angry Tsongas voter

    by JMS on Mon Jan 26, 2004 at 12:06:01 PM PST

    •  Spoiled rotten (none)
      I saw one NH voter interviewed after seeing Dean, and he said, "I really liked him a lot, especially when he talked about restoring community and hope. I'll decide after I have chili with Kerry tomorrow and go bowling with Edwards tonight."


      •  hee (none)
        Dean's my man, but sure...I'd go bowling with Edwards...

        mythical angry Tsongas voter

        by JMS on Mon Jan 26, 2004 at 12:12:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Converts (none)
        There were upstate NY volunteers for Dean in the audience at Dean's Hooksett event yesterday morning.  According to them, a couple in the row behind them gave a pre-Dean appearance interview to a reporter from SF and said they were voting for Kerry.  After the event was over, my friend went to try and convert the couple and found the woman with tears streaming down her face.  They are both committed Dean supporters now.

        I'd feel better if we had a few more days, though...

        •  I hear ya (none)
          I think if Dean had just a couple more days he'd have it in the bag. So glad that the media coverage of him has been heavy and largely favorable, that helps enormously. With Kerry still looking so unexciting, people are starting to realize why they don't particularly like him.

          BriVT - thanks so much for the excellent diary entry! Really enjoyed reading it.

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