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All the tracking polls

All the tracking polls yesterday showed Dean, at a minimum, stopping his decline and in most cases making up some lost ground. Now the movement seems clear. Tonight's ARG poll has Kerry 38%, Dean 20%, Edwards 16%, Clark 15%.

(ARG now also has tracking polls out for South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma.)

I heard Dean on the radio tonight as I was driving back to my hotel. And he sounded very much at ease and commanding -- frank, smart, quick on his feet. Earlier today, I was wondering just where he'd have to place on Tuesday to win in the media's expectations game. And it seemed to me that if Dean could manage a convincing second -- that is, with real distance between him and the third place finisher -- that he could play the comeback kid angle. He could argue, with some merit, that he took a huge hit, fell dramatically in the polls but was then able to fight back into contention by corralling a lot of doubting supporters back into the fold.

The problem for Dean is that none of the February 3rd contests strike me as natural Dean states -- with the possible exception of New Mexico. And a victory for Kerry in New Hamsphire would still mean that Dean had failed to win in two states which seem to play heavily to his strengths.

One more point: I haven't had a chance to write about it yet. But I was struck by the iffy advance work for the Clark event that I went to on Friday, and what I've heard about a few others. (The rally on Sunday was much, much better.) For all the money Clark's raised and the polished Internet presence, this is still a campaign that was cobbled together quickly and then had significant internal shake-ups in its first couple months. I don't want to judge on limited evidence -- which mine very much is. But it's just left me wondering whether it might be a sign of a broader problem.

Theres nothing quite like

There’s nothing quite like speeding down a dark New England country highway, frigid outside the car and comfy <$Ad$>enough inside, hitting on just the right song on the radio and playing it really, really loud. And heading north tonight I was hitting them one after another. Sometimes ... well, sometimes Led Zeppelin is just more important than politics.

After hopscotching from event to event in Nashua I found a T-Mobile hotspot at a Borders Books in town and jotted down the events in the post below. After that, I hopped in the car and headed north to a public radio studio in Concord to do Chris Lydon’s The Blogging of the President 2004 show from 9 PM to 10 PM Eastern time (check local listing). I’m here in the studio about to go on the air. I'll be writing up more observations on the events of the day later this evening.

I hopped from one

I hopped from one rally to the next this afternoon, all in Nashua, separated by only a few miles. I saw Edwards, Clark and Kerry --- though I only saw portions of each event because they were bunched up on top of each other at 12 PM (Edwards), 1 PM (Clark), and 2 PM (Kerry).

My purpose in running from one rally to the next like this was to get as close as I could to an apples to apples comparison of the crowds the candidates are drawing, their level of enthusiasm, and how on their game the candidates seem. As you know, the primary gets underway in about thirty-six hours, so the charge in an Edwards audience, for instance, three days ago, just can’t be compared to a Clark audience today.

First on my list was an Edwards rally at a high school in Nashua. But, actually, before I get into that, let me make one thing clear: It’s really friggin’ cold up here.

It wasn’t until yesterday. And I spent most of my twenties living in New England. So it’s not like I’m not used to these winters. But it’s cold. Tonight it’s supposed to go below zero for the first time since I’ve been here. And with the wind chill I’m sure the air against my face will feel like it’s getting lapped by ice water just as it has today.

When I walked up to the Edwards rally there was a volunteer holding an Edwards sign, screaming “This is the man who can beat George W. Bush,” like a frosty John The Baptist heralding the Messenger or the end of time. On the inside the weird craziness of the final hours of the primary was on full display.

Edwards may have the niceness campaign. But his folks aren’t above showing off what brickbats the other guys’ are using. In the hall behind the forest of tripods and the underbrush of AV cables and knocked over chairs, an Edwards staffer was telling a reporter he could come by Edwards Headquarters if he wanted to view the attack mailing Kerry was sending out about Clark.

Right, Edwards will hook you with Kerry’s anti-Clark attack mailing.

The political tourists are here too. (Not that I’m making fun of them. I did the same thing in 1996.) A California Poli-Sci prof-cum-TV talking head was there yucking it up with the celeb journalists. And the celeb journos were getting quality time with each other as well.

A short time later I listened in on a reporter doing one of the ubiquitous voter interviews. Reporter: “What do you like better about Edwards?” Voter: “The others have higher negatives.” Reporter: “What do you mean by negatives?” Voter: “Like with Kerry, he’s got bad things about him.”

At this point the back and forth became a bit difficult to scribble down word for word. But the essence of it was that the guy turned to his friend next to him and explained how his friend’s wife was at St. Paul’s with John Kerry. And when she and Kerry were dating at the age of 16 or 17 or something like that, he didn’t … well, you know. Kerry didn’t. “If he doesn’t make moves on a beautiful blonde, how can he be president?”

(As I suspected, St. Paul's was all boys when Kerry was there. So at least some parts of the story don't add up.)

The crowd at the Edwards rally, by my count, was about 600 people, all very pumped up, with some undetermined number of others in an ‘overflow’ room somewhere else on campus. A campaign volunteer named Pauly Rodney was getting the crowd warmed up with a lot of razzmatazz that looked most like a high school rally before the basketball game, full of cheers, give me an E, gimme a D, gimme a W … foot-stomping, kids leading cheers, carefully-organized clean-fun exuberance. Showmanship seems to rub off on folks in Edwards’ orbit.

Rodney speaks with a lot of authority --- which I learned from personal experience when he rousted me out of the section set aside for dignitaries just before the show got underway.

Edwards' talk was exactly the same as the one I saw over in Portsmouth at his town hall meeting on Wednesday. This time he had Glenn Close in tow. And he had on a clipped-on mike which magnified the expressiveness of his presentation. Edwards, as nearly as I can tell, never utters a word without one or more hands gesturing in some significant, word-intensifying manner.

He railed at “that crowd of insiders in Washington and their lobbyists”, pumped his fists again and again, smiled again and again and told the audience about “the America we’re going to build.”

I’ve realized that it’s impossible not to believe Edwards is going to be the nominee while you’re actually watching an Edwards event. The certainty wears off a while later, of course. But while he’s got you in his crowd you’re under his spell. Tried. Tried again ... No, doesn’t work. There’s some sort of hypnosis. At least in the moment, he's that good.

The crowd was on fire and Edwards, the master, was wringing every drop of enthusiasm out of them, twisting and turning them, hands aflutter. It was getting near 1 PM so I was on my way to see Wes Clark at Daniel Webster College.

What the veteran journalists often say is that in the last couple days you watch the size and charge of the crowds more than the polls. That’s where the story is told.

When I was thinking of what I’d write this afternoon and this evening, and when I was driving to the Clark event, I had thought the story might be the surging Edwards' crowds and the more restrained and perhaps smaller ones for Clark. I thought this because of the Clark event I saw on Friday where everything seemed just a tad off key. But that’s not what I found.

Clark’s audience was in a similar-sized room with just as many people (roughly 600 we figured, with others in overflow) and, in their own way, just as charged as Edwards’. There was the same intensity, the crowd waves, the call and response, chants building up to fury and then lapsing away. The same intensity, but less organized --- and more boisterous --- or not so much directed by one person up on a stage. Everything Edwards is fine-tuned, like Edwards. If these were rival high schools this might have been the one on the wrong side of the tracks.

Clark had practically a whole cabinet of people there to warm up the crowd and introduce him: former Florida AG Bob Butterworth, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, David Dinkins, Charlie Rangel, an Arkansas congressman and about half a dozen others.

The final introduction and testimonial was from a woman whose husband was one of the three killed in the convoy accident in Bosnia in 1995. This is the one in which one vehicle of three slid off a rain-soaked hillside killing everyone on board. Richard Holbrooke and Clark were in one of the vehicles that didn’t go over and after the one slid over the edge, Clark rappelled down the hill to attempt a rescue, but to no avail.

At the funeral a few days later Clark gave the dead man’s wedding ring (which presumably he had retrieved from the his body at the bottom of the hill) to his wife. It was a very affecting story.

When I saw Clark a few days ago his delivery struck me as a tad rushed. He yelled his presentation a bit, or something -- I'm not sure precisely what -- was just off key. But today was different. He connected with the crowd. He hit the war issue hard --- Bush is someone who “prances around on the deck of an aircraft carrier.”

If I’d expected to glean some clear message from the differences between the intensity and numbers and passion at the Edwards and Clark rallies, it didn’t turn out that way. Each was very different. Edwards is a bit like a high school rally: fun, loud, clean, exuberance, well-drilled. Clark’s event had no less intensity, but it was a bit more rough-edged, grittier somehow.

By now it was past 2 PM so I hustled off to see Kerry.

Kerry’s event was in a cavernous high school gym at another school in Nashua, a room at least twice the size of the other two I’d been to that morning and bisected by a massive Patton-like American flag, which made the backdrop for Kerry's speech. The visibility was such that I had a hard time getting a handle on exactly how many people were there. But it seemed like many more than either Edwards’ or Clark’s --- I wouldn’t be surprised if it were double the number.

As I noted above, I spent most of my twenties living in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And looking around the crowd I noticed it was well seeded with political notables from both states --- several members of the Massachusetts House delegation in the audience, Ted Kennedy and his son Patrick (Congressman from Rhode Island) on the stage, Mark Green --- the Dems’ losing New York Mayoral candidate against Bloomberg, and a slew of others. It reminds you that Kerry was the front-runner last winter and spring, before the wagon got upended.

As it happens, though at least 40 minutes late, I made my way into the room (not easy as it was packed) just as Kerry was getting introduced by his wife.

As expected, it was the same speech as I saw in Manchester on Friday --- though with a few new flourishes. Mission accomplished gets turned on its head to talk about national security and domestic needs: “Is your mission accomplished?”

The national economy is about “people and products, not perks and privileges.”

Picking up on Bill Clinton’s recent line that people prefer "strong and wrong" to "weak and right" in times of national crisis, he said: “I bring to our party the ability to be strong and right at the same time.”

A bit prosaic, but to the point and somehow it sounded a bit better in the moment.

He’s also adopting the high presidential cant … “and so I say to you” … “in these final hours” … “stand with me and …”

More on all of this later this evening.

I hit rallies for

I hit rallies for Edwards, Clark and Kerry this afternoon. A report is soon to follow. Tonight at 9 PM I'll be on this radio show discussing the primary and blogs.

An update on the

An update on the anti-Kerry flyer I saw last night posted at Dean's Volunteer Operations Center in Manchester. (See earlier post: the Dean campaign says it was posted by an errant volunteer, and not connected with the campaign.) Apparently, they were also leafletted on cars last night at the Democratic party's 100 Club Dinner in Nashua. Someone's handing these things out.

A major backdrop to

A major backdrop to this contest in New Hampshire continues to be the fact that the two candidates with the most wind at their back -- Kerry and Edwards -- are also the ones who have the fewest resources in place to contest the primaries which will come rapidly, week after week, after next Tuesday.

Dean, of course, has spent the last couple months using all those Internet dollars to build up organizations and infrastructure in states across the country. And Clark, though to a lesser extent, has done the same.

As we reported here a couple days ago, Clark has snatched up a few dozen campaign workers from Gephardt's operation in Iowa and sent them off to post-New Hampshire states across the country. (In at least some of those cases Edwards was in competition for those operatives. But Clark had the money.)

The shorthand you hear from reporters is that Kerry has "nothing" on the ground in those states. And that can't be quite true. But after Kerry's town hall meeting in Manchester on Friday one of his top aides told us that he would probably not even compete in all seven of the states that vote on February 3rd. When asked which ones they'd contest, he told us they were "nowhere near figuring that out."

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.

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