Iâm here at Howard Deanâs 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. Iâd 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. CNNâs 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 morningâs 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 theyâre sure theyâre 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 youâd 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 heâs 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. Heâs got the momentum and the frontrunner standing. But to a degree heâs not yet the big story. Or at least heâs sharing billing with Dean. And thatâs 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 Iâm 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 âmember 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."