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At John Kerrys Town

At John Kerry’s Town Hall meeting on Friday in Manchester one of his high-profile supporters was retiring Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina. Hollings himself ran for president in, I think, in 1984. And for a man in his mid-80s he’s remarkably spry and able to work a crowd. His drawl isn’t as inscrutable as he often jokes about it being. But it is far deeper and more distant than anyone has from any part of the country who is under fifty --- a faint echo of an era when people, black and white, from places like the South Carolina lowlands spoke a dialect that would be all but impossible to understand to outsiders’ ears. He is one of the final representatives from an era when every Southern senator was written by William Faulkner.

Of course that old-timer-dom sometimes comes with a hint of a price, lapses from high-church political correctness which the audience on Friday was indulgent enough not to notice.

When Hollings was getting underway on the jobs theme he said that half of the furniture in the United States (or some such stat) was now made in China. At just that moment a startling, crashing pop! came out of one of the loudspeakers. Not missing a beat, Hollings said that there must be some “chinamen” over there who didn’t like that.

A few minutes later he was talking about “ole Suskind’s book” and how, as reported in Ron Suskind’s book about Paul O’Neil, the president had blanched at the idea of giving yet another tax cut to the rich, only to have Dick Cheney pipe in to steady his course.

In Hollings' retelling ...

“‘Haven’t we already given the rich a tax cut?’ the president said. And then ole’ Cheney said, ‘No, we want more.' He’s the Jesse Jackson of the Republican Party! He wants it all!’”

The Jesse Jackson of the Republican party?

You’d have to say that’s a bit off message for the contemporary Democratic party. But you could see the collective will of the audience for a moment awkwardly, and then decisively, opting to give the old guy a pass.

A while later when Kerry was giving his talk, and the speaker barked up again, he brought things back to the 21st century. “It’s that Chinese guy again …”

Following up on last

Following up on last night's post, The New Republic's Ryan Lizza, on his new campaign blog, has copies of the anti-Clark and anti-Dean mailings the Kerry campaign has been sending out.

In the final days

In the final days before a big election there's a sudden digging in for final advantage that you can start to see everywhere you look. A friend told me this evening about a mailing the Kerry campaign is sending out --- a pretty glossy, done-up thing, it seems --- attacking Wes Clark on several fronts, including his work as a lobbyist and his past support for Republicans.

I saw what might be another example of that when I went by the new Volunteer Operations Center the Dean campaign just set up to coordinate canvassing and get out the vote efforts for the campaign.

In the words of the campaign …

Dean volunteers in Manchester will now be exclusively organized from the brand new Volunteer Operations Center at 1111 Elm Street. Dean volunteers will continue to be the best organized in the Granite State because they remember why they started working for a little known Governor from a small state with no money and the odds stacked against him: He brought hope. And still does.


I stopped by at around 6:30 this evening in the rapidly falling temperatures here and walked into one big, cavernous room filled with tables, a bar haphazardly stocked with miscellaneous food <$NoAd$>for volunteers and of course mountains of signs and posters and flyers, with all the paraphernalia of the last minute canvassing push: boxes of rubber bands, pencils, folders, stacks of clipboards, inches thick stacks of flyers. When I stopped by there were maybe thirty people on the premises --- a pretty sparse crowd. But I think the center had just disgorged a multitude to head over to the state Democratic party function tonight in Nashua.

But one thing I did see there gave a sense of some last minute bare-knuckles fighting that may be afoot under the radar.

Taped to the wall at the Operations Center, near stacks of other flyers and hand-out materials, was a red-meat-laden flyer headlined “Could Kerry Beat Bush in November?: Please ask the hard electability questions before it is too late.”

Unlike the labeled Dean for America hand-out flyers I saw lying around, this one had no label identifying who put it together or who sponsored it. It listed, in half a dozen or so categories, a bill of particulars about why Kerry would be a disaster for the Democratic party and why he’d get creamed by George W. Bush.

Kerry's been labeled “haughty, effete, phony, aloof [and] patrician," read the flyer. How could he ever connect with “wage earners and minorities"?

In any election Kerry would be cast as the “privileged, entitled Aristocrat that so many of his Massachusetts constituents consider him to be.”

At another point, the flyer asked whether Kerry’s “attempt to run on his military background [could] so offend the Peace-nik wing of the party that we end up with Nader II” and later lambasted Kerry for being -- along with both Presidents Bush -- a member of Skull & Bones, “ultra elitist secret society” at Yale University.

The stacks of flyers I saw on the table in front of me were all 'Women for Dean' flyers about an event tomorrow in Manchester and another which was essentially a letter from the candidate with a last minute pitch for support.

I saw no stacks of the flyer taped to the wall.

As long time readers of this site know, I've written before about the way campaigns use unlabeled attack flyers in the final run-up to election day. So seeing this thing posted in front of the Dean campaign's canvassing bank three night's before election day certainly raised my suspicion. On the other hand, the Manchester volunteer office struck me as a pretty chaotic, free-for-all sort of environment, so it's certainly possible that some over-eager supporter just taped this thing to the wall a half-hour before I got there.

This evening I contacted Dean for America's New Hampshire office and spoke to state Communications Director Dorie Clark. In our first conversation, Clark told me that neither she nor anyone else at the campaign was familiar with such a flyer but assured me that "the campaign has never printed or distributed anything like that."

Clark told me that a campaign worker she had contacted at the office told her that there was no flyer such as I'd described. And she asked me to tell her just where I'd seen it, which I went on to do.

A short time later Clark called me back and told me that they had indeed found it.

She went on to explain that this was “something that a volunteer produced and put up and that we now took down immediately. We have and will continue to emphasize to our volunteers that we are runnig a positive campaign. More than 500 volunteers went through our office today. And so it was frenetic. As soon as we were notified [i.e., by TPM] we removed it”

I drove home from

I drove home from Newcastle late this afternoon and stopped at the Merrimack restaurant for a quick dinner. A film crew from Comedy Central was there filming a tongue-in-cheek interview with the proprietress of the place. And one of the questions the guy asked was what each of the candidates ate when they came into the place. Edwards? Club sandwiches. Kerry? Fettuccini Alfredo!

I expect a press release from Edwards headquarters before the night is out.

Im here at Howard

I’m here at Howard Dean’s Saturday Town Hall meeting at a holiday resort hotel on the small sliver of shoreline that New Hampshire manages to eke out between Massachusetts and Maine. This place is so New England you could lop it off in blocks, pack it in dry ice, and ship it out west for a hundred dollars a shot. The meeting hall is relatively small. I’d say there are a couple hundred people here with a few dozens more of press. A lot of young people, and a lot of graying liberal-looking folks. CNN’s Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider are milling around here and there.

Some of the late polls show Dean stopping his slide going into the weekend, but having lost a lot of support since Iowa. This morning’s ARG poll says the deterioration of his support has ended. But they also have him down at 15% support.

Kerry remains miles ahead and still seems to be picking up steam.

When I came in, a Fox News reporter, Major Garrett was doing a live shot, telling his viewers that the Dean spin points to the fact that polls show that they have the highest number of supporters who say they’re sure they’re going to vote for their candidate.

But that sounds like a bright spin on a hard fact. Those are the sort of percentages you would have if you’d spent the last five days shedding all but your most ardent supporters.

One of the peculiarities of this final weekend of reporting is that Dean remains the big story, even as his support falls off and his chances of outright victory in New Hampshire seem to fade. Whether he’s on fire or just burning to a cinder, he still has most of the gravity --- at least for news coverage.

I think this may also be providing an advantage for Kerry. He’s got the momentum and the frontrunner standing. But to a degree he’s not yet the big story. Or at least he’s sharing billing with Dean. And that’s keeping some of the traditional frontrunner scrutiny off him. There's only so much media oxygen to go around.

The chatter among Dean's traveling press is that he bottomed out on Thursday -- in terms of the mood and size of his crowds, and his as well -- and that he's been regaining his footing since then.

At the moment Dean is running about a half hour late and I’m crouched in amidst a small forest of video-camera-bearing tripods on an elevated platform at the back of the hall. Up on the stage are about eight New Hampshire voters on each side of the stage and four big American flags smack in the center against the back curtain.

...

The show got under way with a series of testimonials from Dean supporters. The first is a young woman who introduces herself as a former “member of the disaffected youth you've heard so much about." She met Dean at a Meet-Up in New Hampshire last year and that changed everything. She's followed by a middle-aged man whose son, a school teacher in the reserves, has just been deployed to Kuwait. He's followed by a Vermonter who got a heart exam which may have saved his life because of Vermont's generous health care policies.

Dean gave what seemed like a solid presentation. He has a good mix now of a positive setting forth of his positions with focused criticisms of his opponents. In addition to his opposition to and Kerry's support of this gulf war, he's now adding that he supported the last one while Kerry opposed it.

Dean says he was right twice and Kerry was wrong twice.

He also has a few good laugh lines at his own expense ("Thank you so much. You made me so happy I could scream.") that went over well. At least within the four walls of this town hall meeting, there's no sense that this isn't a campaign that's on its game and looking for a solid result in three days.

At the press conference after the event Dean had what was one of the best one-liners I've heard about Bush administration foreign policy: the president promised a humble foreign policy. What he gave us was one not of "humility but one based on humiliation."

We had some server

We had some server problems <$NoAd$>yesterday afternoon and last evening (in part due to especially heavy readership for the primary) that kept me occupied for much of yesterday and made it impossible to travel up to Keene for Dean's townhall meeting. What I heard from reporters who were there, though, was that Dean seemed very much back on his game and had a very large, overflow crowd.

I wasn't able to shake free of the server problem until less than an hour before Dean's event. And since it was just a tad more than 60 miles away in some traffic I went instead to see Clark at a similar event in Derry.

Clark was pretty good. He's gotten down doing a basic stump speech. But there's a certain lack of intimacy in his presentation. Bluntly, in such large settings, he yells a lot of his speech. Through the event I wasn't quite sure whether I was just too close to the speaker. But I think I had it right. There were also some true advance work follies, which I'll touch on when I write it up later.

Now I'm off to see Dean at another Town Hall shindig in New Castle.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be writing each of these events up (Kerry and Clark from yesterday, Dean today) later this afternoon.

I think theres no

I think there’s no question that Wes Clark didn’t do a great job fielding that question about Michael Moore’s calling the president a ‘deserter’ in the debate a couple nights ago. But I was somewhat mystified by Peter Jennings rather prejudging the question by saying there was no factual support for the charge.

Jennings said, “Mr. Moore said in front of you that President Bush, he was saying he'd like to see a debate between you, the General, and President Bush, who he called a deserter. Now, that's a reckless charge not supported by the facts.”

Now, desertion has a specific meaning. It refers to people in the military who take off with the intent never to come back or who abandon their post at some moment of danger or critical importance.

Given that, it seems pretty clear that a charge of desertion doesn’t apply. But Jennings seemed to imply that the president's military record was beyond question.

Right after ‘desertion’ in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (article #85) comes the lesser charge of ‘Absence without Leave.’ And Jennings must know that during the 2000 election there was quite a lot of reporting from in papers like The Boston Globe among others that the president was repeatedly AWOL during the time he served in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s.

Nor was calling the president out on this seem as beyond the pale. Just before the 2000 election, referring to a six month period in which Bush failed to show up for required drills because he was off working on a campaign in Alabama, Senator Daniel Inouye said “At the least, I would have been court-martialed. At the least, I would have been placed in prison.” Former Senator Bob Kerrey charged Bush (Boston Globe, Nov. 1, 200 “KERREY BLASTS BUSH ON SERVICE SAYS CANDIDATE 'AWOL' IN '70S.”) with repeatedly going AWOL.

Now, as I say, ‘deserter’ seems to be the wrong charge. And it’s certainly provocative. But it’s also pretty clear what Moore was referring to. And being AWOL is a pretty serious offense too. I’ve already said that much in the debate struck me as laughably tilted toward criticism not so much of the particular candidates as criticism of simply being Democrats. But this question signaled a certain hypersensitivity about criticizing the president at all.

I went to a

I went to a Kerry town hall meeting today in Manchester. Later, I’ll discuss in more length, but for now a quick update. Kerry’s delivery and ease on the stump (or I guess we don’t have stumps anymore, barely even lecterns) has become much better. I don’t think there’s any denying this. Success breeds success and confidence breeds ease and a relaxed manner. Both are evident here.

The event got underway about a half hour late --- a few hundred supporters in a basketball gym, with a platform in the center, atop which sat or stood Kerry, former Senator Max Cleland, Senator Fritz Hollings, and a veteran who served under Kerry’s command in Vietnam. Again, there was the saturation coverage of things military and particularly points related to veterans. Only at the end of Kerry’s brief talk was there an oblique reference to domestic policy.

There’s a shadow boxing game going on here. The campaign isn’t so much talking to these voters about Kerry’s military background as it’s signaling (or trying to signal) that this is a candidate against whom President Bush won’t be able to play the patriotism card. Everything here is about who can beat Bush --- either directly or indirectly.

I’m off to a Dean event. More later.

One note about Kerrys

One note about Kerry's strength in this state. As you know, Kerry's been running for a long time. And long before things started heating up in the second half of 2003 Kerry had this place wired. He had lots of the state's Democratic activists lined up on his side. He had former Governor Jeanne Shaheen on his side. And an experienced campaign staff.

Now, after he started to drift in the polls in the face of Dean's surging numbers, all that organizational muscle didn't seem to count for much. But since voters themselves in the state began giving him a second look that organization has played a very important role helping him capitalize on post-Iowa momentum and it seems quite likely to help him harvest those votes very effectively on Tuesday.

In short, Kerry had a lot of latent strength in the state even when he seemed dead in the water. He had a very big sail ready to catch the wind out of Iowa.

And along the lines of establishments and organization, we'd all gotten accustomed to thinking that Dean destroyed the Democratic establishment in the Fall when he rocketed ahead of their candidates, developed a new way of fundraising, and bashed them silly for their feeble opposition to the president. But maybe that's wrong. Perhaps when he really delivered that establishment a fatal blow was in the winter when he got all of them (Gore, Bradley, Carter sorta, Harkin, McGreevey, Kamarck -- yes, we saw Elaine, we saw!) to endorse him and then, with them in tow, drove off a cliff.

Various campaigns send out

Various campaigns send out rapid-response emails to journalists during and after debates. I got six tonight from the Lieberman campaign. Two were pushing Lieberman's strengths; four were hitting other candidates. And all four of those hits were hits at Clark.

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