Josh Marshall

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Another quick update. This evening after the Kerry event I hung around as various voters asked Kerry questions of this sort and that. One came up and said simply that he liked him but was still trying to decide who to vote for. What could Kerry tell him to convince him?

Two things. One: Kerry said he has both the decades of experience in foreign policy as well as decades of experience with domestic policy issues. Two: He's been fighting this fight or fighting these interests for thirty five years. Both answers struck me as addressed to Clark. Nothing addressed to Dean.

One other thing: Kerry's voice. In the same informal questioning and answering, toward the end he kept stumbling over coughs that came more and more frequently. And they were agonizing coughs that trailed off into some sort of vaguely high-pitched sound that was somewhere between a high whine and a wince. Toward the end several people half-begged him not to answer any more questions and to lay off his voice.

Here at Kerry’s first major event of the day. He came into New Hampshire overnight or in the morning. I think he basically hit the sack for most of the day and now we’re at a ‘chili feed’ at a school in Pembroke, I think about a dozen miles north of Manchester. A good crowd, three or four hundred people.

Right now we’re in the Q & A. At about 6:40, a woman stands up and starts her question. “I think you’re qualified to be president. But there’s one other candidate who I think is qualified…” And who is it? Is she torn between Kerry and Dean? Is it between Clark and Kerry? ‘fraid not. It’s between you, John, and Lyndon LaRouche.

Uggh. Actually it wasn’t as bad as you might expect: a human story tied in with her LaRouchism. Kerry heard her out, though he didn’t touch her request to throw out the “real devil in the White House.”

A quick update from the morning after in Iowa.

This morning my friend Alex and I went to see Howard Dean in his first big event in New Hampshire. I’m here now. Dean is taking questions. We’re at the Holiday Inn in downtown Manchester.

More analysis later, but for now a few thoughts.

It’s a fairly small venue, a smallish ballroom. There are two or three hundred supporters. Perhaps more. I’m not good at estimating crowd sizes. After looking around I was struck that most of the people sitting in the audience looked like they were in their forties or fifties.

If you thought Dean in New Hampshire would be anything like his full-throttle speech last night, you’d be mistaken. The crowd is getting a bit more lively now that he’s taking questions and loosening up. But he started the speech calmly, either listless or measured depending on your interpretation.

He said there’d be no red meat (his words), and that he wanted to give a policy speech. He said it would be a “different kind of speech.” And it certainly was.

He didn’t talk much about the war. It was mainly balanced budgets, health care, etc. He seemed to be working at least in part from prepared remarks. It was nothing like the speech I saw down in DC a few months ago, a raucous rally.

It was hard to call it a rally. It was, as Dean said, a policy speech.

Dean's rationale for this was as follows: he said he got into the race because he thought Democrats weren't standing up for Dem principles, that they weren't taking the fight to President Bush. He said his opponents are now doing that -- something he took credit for. So he'd go back to discussing policy issues, what he did in Vermont, what he'd do for America, etc.

This was the event I was most interested in seeing today. I wanted to see if Dean --- and just as much his supporters --- could take a punch. Last night was one helluva punch.

Can he and his supporters maintain their energy and organization? Will they lose morale? The flip side of bringing in new blood is that they may not have a lot of campaign experience. They may not be able to keep up their focus when things get rough. Just think what it was like to keep working away for Kerry six weeks ago ...

(Now Joe Trippi is standing next to me. A quick look. Now he’s gone.)

This is just one event. But from sitting here it seems like a pretty low energy affair. It’s not at all the kind of event where the supporters seem charged.

One other thing: barely a mention of the campaign in New Hampshire as a campaign. What they have to do to win. We need to do this, we need to do that, etc. Some hits at his opponents for not having the right position on the war. But not by name and not much more than that.

Things are picking up now a bit. And it's coming from questioners. And Dean is feeding a bit off them.

Just now a woman got up and asked a question attacking Fox News (“an embarrassment to this country”). She hopes that all Fox News employees lose their jobs. Dean picks up the riff and notes how Fox News viewers have the highest rate of believing that Saddam was behind 9/11.

Late Update: Dean definitely picked up steam toward the end of the Q & A with the audience. Now we're waiting for his press availability.

Check out Fareed Zakaria's Tuesday column in the Washington Post. The issue is legitimacy. And what's happening in Iraq. Zakaria touches upon some issues that I'll be getting into in my review essay about empire, which will be coming out shortly.

Before the results came out this evening, I went to one campaign event --- one at the Clark campaign. The other choice was Lieberman. But, given the direction things seem to be going in, I thought that might just be too painful.

Clark spent the day in South Carolina. And the premise of the event was that at 7:45 PM he was coming back from the airport with a stack of pizzas for his hardworking staffers and volunteers.

Anyway, I thought it was supposed to be a rally of some sort. But by the time I got there at about 8:00 PM it seemed to be pretty much campaign workers and a slew of traveling press. Calm, more or less. A phone bank. A bunch of people milling around. Some volunteers whipping up signs with magic markers.

The Clark campaign headquarters is several rooms of computers and desks and one main central room where there’s a phone bank. And there --- with a bunch of reporters, a few cameramen, and a sound boom or two hovering over him --- was Clark chatting up a series of New Hampshire voters. I hunted up a space where I could crouch down and listened and watched some typical campaign theater --- Clark chatting on the phone, seeming oblivious to the dozen or so reporters scribbling into their notebooks with that typically awful reporters’ handwriting.

One thing that struck me as odd is that Clark wasn’t talking about the campaign really. He seemed to be talking about the Kosovo campaign or his military career, or something like that, and going on at some length.

After a while I realized there was no point in listening to this. So I started milling around, talked to a couple friends and then made my way into a back room where E.J.Dionne and Al Hunt (luminaries who weren't in Iowa!) were chatting up Eli Segal, who’s the campaign chairman for Clark.

(Matt Bennett, the communications director, was hovering around in the background, answering the occasional question.)

These little chat sessions are classic moments of campaign kabuki theater. We’re asking Segal questions. But we’re not really asking questions --- as in asking questions in the sense that we think we’re going to hear what he thinks.

What we’re doing is tossing out questions so that Segal can tell us what the campaign’s spin is. Everybody has a wink in their eye because everyone knows what the deal is.

So people asked this question and that. Segal defended the decision not to contest Iowa. And then I piped up with the question I wanted to ask. What about Kerry? He’s rising as fast as you guys were a week ago, I said, and now he’s going to come out of Iowa with tons of momentum.

(This was before the results came out, say about 8:30 PM.)

Segal gave the standard answers, one campaign at a time, etc., etc., etc. But his real answer came at the end. He pointed to money and organization after New Hampshire, arguing that Kerry doesn’t have the ground organization in those states or the money to play everywhere at once in those later contests. Segal already seemed to be planning for the possibility of a Kerry resurgence in New Hampshire -- setting up the argument that maybe he could sustain coming in behind Kerry?

(Tonight's ARG poll has Kerry ever so slightly in second place again (Numbers: Dean 28%, Kerry 20%, Clark 19%.)

A bit later Clark was on Larry King Live. And they set up an impromptu studio with Clark set in front of the phone callers as a sort of a backdrop.

At this point we didn’t know what the results would be. And we could not hear Larry or whoever else was interviewing Clark. But we could hear Clark reacting. And it became clear fairly quickly from Clark's responses that Kerry and Edwards were big winners.

This went on a bit longer. Clark finished. His volunteers cheered and went nuts. I talked to a few more people. Grabbed a slice of pizza at the Clark campaign’s expense and then hit the road.

Just a thought.

I wrote the first iteration of this post about 6 pm this evening when it wasn't clear where he'd come in. But I've been struck for a while by something that happened after Gore endorsed Dean.

First, there was Gore's endorsement. Then Bradley. Then Harkin. And then just recently, kinda sorta, Carter.

It had sort of the feel to me of Gore's campaign circa mid-1999, when he was sitting on his lead, running a top-heavy campaign and relying heavily on endorsements by big-time Dems. It's too early to say now.

But I'm curious what the strategy was rolling out the endorsements like that. Certainly, at some level he was reaching out from his core of support, trying to bring in party regulars by getting the endorsements of high-profile Dems. But it communicated some sort of passivity, I think. Some aspect of playing on the defensive. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, like people, campaign's not busy being born are busy dyin'.

Stunning. Actually, stunning doesn't really do it justice.

Kerry ends up getting more than twice Dean's number, according to the late numbers. And of course Edwards too with more than Dean and Gephardt combined.

Amazing. I'm going to write a bit later this evening describing various things I saw here this evening at Clark headquarters and elsewhere in Manchester.

One point: At 10:11 PM on the east coast I'm watching CNN. And Bill Schneider was just on saying that the turning point for Dean, what sent him slipping, was the capture of Saddam Hussein. I think that's ridiculous. But we'll touch later on why that's so.

A few hours ago I flagged this AP story about how the Clark campaign had hired John Weaver -- McCain's guru from 2000 who subsequently switched to become a Democrat after Bush became president.

(I'm an admirer of Weaver's and the kind of political ideas I think he represents.)

Now AP has another story saying he hasn't been hired. The two sides are only 'in negotiations' with Weaver.

I don't think that the AP (actually AP's Ron Fournier) got this wrong. I strongly suspect that this is a hint of in-fighting over whether to bring Weaver in as senior strategist in the campaign.

You'll notice the first article said that the word came from "campaign official speaking on condition of anonymity." It was then knocked down by Clark spokesman Matt Bennett who told Fournier: "John Weaver has not been hired by the Clark campaign although he has been in discussion with the campaign about the possibility of coming on to give us some strategic advice."

Something's up with this quick turnabout.

So more about my chat with Dick Bennett at ARG.

As I’ve noted in some earlier posts, the big question I’m trying to get a handle on (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) is just why Kerry is surging right now. Not just in Iowa, but in New Hampshire too --- which is really the bigger question in my mind.

One thing Bennett pointed out struck me. By his numbers, each of the major Democrats in the race is quite popular with New Hampshire voters. (He says the only one who has significant negatives is Lieberman.) So if you talk to Dean voters or Clark voters, they like Kerry too. And vice versa.

Bennett’s theory is that this whole race is about who can beat Bush, and that candidates like Kerry --- until quite recently --- have been completely missing the boat by talking about their plan for the environment, or their plan for this, or their plan for that.

What people care about is who can beat Bush. Beat Bush, they reason, and everything else will fall into place. So who cares what your plan is.

As I’ve noted earlier, I had been thinking that Kerry would have a very hard time (perhaps an all but impossible time) winning back a large following in New Hampshire after he’d lost it.

But that logic was based on the premise that people had found Kerry wanting, had decided they didn’t like this or that thing about him. If that were true then you figure they wouldn’t go back to him. So if they left Kerry for Dean, and then soured on Dean, they’d go to Clark or perhaps Edwards rather than going back to Kerry.

But if Kerry’s approval ratings remain high and if he looks like a winner coming out of Iowa --- someone who knows how to win a campaign and someone who might be able to beat George Bush --- then many of those old Kerry supporters who’ve been ditching him over the last several months might be willing to hop back on board. And quickly.

Bennett gave me the sense that he thinks Kerry could quickly jump back to the levels of support he had last year. At that means up in the thirty percent range.

Two other points. Bennett’s view was that Gephardt and Edwards are too low in the polls now in to take full advantage of a big bounce out of Iowa.

The sense I get right now is that this is a Clark/Kerry race in the state. Not because Dean isn’t in it too. Of course he is. But because Clark and Kerry are after the same group of voters. That fight could get pretty intense.

A few quick notes ...

First, John Weaver has joined the Clark campaign. And that's a big deal.

Weaver was McCain's guru in 2000. And after the 2000 campaign he -- following what many of us considered the logic of McCain's increasingly progressive turn -- himself became a Democrat. I think he changed his party registration (and started working for Dems) in 2001.

In any case, this match-up has a history. Before Clark ever got into the race there was a heavy mutual courting going on between Clark and Weaver. But it never came off.

Another point. In my previous post, I said I wanted to understand more about why Kerry is surging in Iowa and New Hampshire. (In some ways, his New Hampshire jump surprised me more than Iowa.) I just had a long chat with Dick Bennett, the guy who runs the ARG daily tracking poll. And I think I may now understand -- or at least have a better understanding of a key part of the picture.

I'll explain more on that front in a post a little later this afternoon.

Finally, I can receive email no problem while I'm here in New Hampshire. So keep sending them. But it's fairly difficult for me to send TPM email, largely because Verizon's wireless Internet service turns out to be the biggest disaster in the history of the universe. So if you don't hear back from me, that's probably why. But keep sending because I am receiving and reading them.