Yesterday, the day before the primary, my friend Kenny and I hit a final few events and went to a couple of headquarters to get spun once more before the voting starts. First it was a Dean Town Hall meeting at the Palace Theater in downtown Manchester -- this is the one where Al Franken helped take out a LaRouche protestor and, in the doing, got his glasses broken.
(Don't this place provide some decent street theater!)
This was actually a coordinated LaRouchie attack, with shouts, escalating into heckles and then blowing right through to blizzards of four-letter-words. It also seemed to show up some weaknesses in the Dean security detail. We were up on the theater's upper level and had one of the hecklers come down to the ledge, arms looping this way and that, screaming about Cheney, screaming at Dean, mostly just screaming.
He was the second string protestor or rather the second wave, after the first guy got tossed. Security at these sorts of events tends to be a 'C'mon, c'mon, you've really got to leave now' sort of affair. But as he was working up into full-froth a crew-cut three-hundred-poundish all-together not nice looking guy stomped out, extended his arm, grabbed the dude by the scruff of his neck, said a couple unpleasant things, and then proceeded to shake the guy around like a friggin' rag doll, all the while making clear that he really shouldn't have made such a scene.
Kenny and I looked at each other, thinking, "Sheesh, they're literally going to throw that guy out into the street." But a few moments later, as I'm watching Dean, scribbling in my notebook and comtemplating the fate of the LaRouchie in the hands of Dean's Rock'em, Sock'em Robot, suddenly I hear ... "Aga b'dada, yada! yada, Cheney Cheney #$%#@&, Dean Cheney, Beast Man! allooooooo, yiiiiiiigraaaaaahhhhh. Yada! Dean, who the $#@% do you think you ..."
He was back.
How did he get back in?
Dean's talk and Q & A was relaxed and assured, though the crowd wasn't as boisterous as I expected. One marquee New Dem was a couple seats down from me, marveling at Dean's prowess and seemingly eager to climb on board.
"If you want to change the president," and this is a close to verbatim paraphrase from my notes, "vote for any of the candidates on the ballot tomorrow. They're all better than George W. Bush. But if you want to change America, vote for me."
He asked supporters to drag friends and associates to the polls to vote for him. "I need you to be draggers for Dean."
Bring everybody. "Bring your kids if they're old enough. And if they're not old enough, then move to Chicago and register them there, and move back."
There was much more on budget-balancing and extending health care then there was on Iraq, and Dean served up his devotion-stirring mix of off-the-cuff and idiosyncratic Q & A.
One moment he's condemning the president's "barbaric approach to stem cell research" and telling the crowd he doesn't "think science should be guided by religious ideology." A short time before he said that Jesse Helms' insistence on withholding dues from the UN -- which Dean said he opposed at the time -- probably did end up pushing the world body toward much-needed reforms.
Certainly, that was the only shout-out I heard to Jesse Helms this week.
After lunch we went to see Clark's brief stop in Manchester (he was hitting each of the state's ten counties, finishing up in Dixville Notch at midnight). We got there just after things were winding down and ran into a ragged crowd -- camera crews, supporters, family, campaign aides -- walking down Elm Street following Clark, who was shaking hands and glad handing from store to store. "I don't know but I've been told, yada yada, yada yada... sound off, sound off, etc." You hear this a lot at Clark functions.
As his crowd parked itself in front of the Merrimack Restaurant, where the candidate was making the rounds, they were confronted by a Kerry crowd at the other side of the intersection. (Kerry has an endless stock of potential volunteers just across the state line, remember.) In response to the Clarkies marching songs, the Kerry crew started chanting "Bring! It! On! Bring! It! On! Bring! It! On!"
It was, I guess, the reductio ad absurdum martial moment this week. Who says this party ain't down with the military?
Later, we headed over to get Lieberman HQ to see friends and get spun a final time. We heard about a new study out predicting that 50% of primary voters today would be independents, which held out some hope, we were told, of a break toward Lieberman, allowing him to slide into third. We'll know soon enough whether there was anything to that, of course. One thing though: You may think Lieberman is the corporate candidate. But his offices in Manchester are decidely ... well, uncorporate. I'd call the aesthetic neo-languid-frat-house, with pizza box accents.
A while later we were at Kerry headquarters, a big, buzzing affair, a hive of activity, with what seemed like about a million more people than at Liebermanville. We stopped in for a moment at one of the back offices for Kenny to reminisce with Bob Shrum about Gore 2000 and get the down-low on what's up with Kerry. Shrum and a Kerry speechwriter were scribbling over what looked like a speech draft. And everybody seemed to be mixing a relative confidence with a measure of finger-crossing. After a bit more milling around we were back to the Palace theater for Edwards' rally around dinner time.
Edwards' crowd seemed a bit bigger and a bit more pumped. But then this was after dinner when it would be much easier for people to come. So I'm not sure how much you can read into that.
I've written a couple times now about Edwards as performer. And on this last night before the voting began, his handlers seemed to be playing to that more than ever. (It was a theater, after all.) Usually some fellow pol or local dignitary will warm up the crowd and introduce the candidate. But this time it was just the disembodied voice of an emcee bellowing out: 'Welcome the next president of the United States, Johhhhhhhhhhn Ehhhhhhhhdwards." And then Edwards tumbles out, thumbs up, all smiles.
For whatever reason, Edwards seemed a bit off his game. He rushed through everything, though with pretty much the same lines throughout.
Edwards has these ridiculously hokey rhetorical questions that he lays on you which become more comical with each repetition. "If what you want is to eat $#%^, live on the streets for five days and comb your hair with a cheese grater, then ahhh'm not yahhhw candidate for president. But if you want ..."
You get the idea.
More to come.