MANCHESTER — You have to hand it to Howard Dean’s volunteers: They never say die.
I saw about 30 Deanies out in front of Kerry’s post-primary party chanting and waving signs — 15 minutes after the polls closed. Nobody knew the spread yet, but it was obvious Kerry had won, and probably won big. Flocks of Kerry supporters marched by the overzealous campaigners, barley granting them sideways glances. They just wanted to get inside and enjoy the victory.
After about 20 minutes someone took the bait and charged toward the doctor’s supporters with a Bush/Cheney 2004 sign over his head. He was quickly surrounded, the crowd jabbing their fingers at him from all sides, shouting “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! George Bush has got to go!” When the president’s lone wolf supporter retreated the crowd cheered loudly, as if it made up for Dean’s loss.
Manchester on the night of a primary is a magical thing. Everyone should experience it at least once in their lives. The streets are full of candidates’ supporters, press from all over the world, and some real oddballs. A pseudo-gospel group in golden robes set up in front of the CNN bus and sang nonsensical ditties about fields and flying. A car full of men in suits pulled up next to me while I was walking down the street and boomed at me through a megaphone, “Will you support me, the visionary, for president? I am good. I deserve to be reelected forever.” Then, cackling, they peeled off.
In comparison, the politicians’ speeches last night were fairly boring. I almost hated leaving the wild streets to listen to the same stump speech I’ve been hearing for a year and a half.
Kerry’s crowd was politely enthusiastic, even if his wife looked bored, alternately gazing off into the distance and staring at the floor while her husband spoke. By contrast, Dean’s headquarters was bursting at the seams. When Dean took the stage the roar lasted for a full five minutes. Dean kept his jacket on this time, and he didn’t begin shouting in Spanish, so it was a big improvement over Iowa. I was surprised by how many in the press corps were wondering if Dean would go berserk again. I mean, how crazy do they think he is?
Dean told supporters that the distant second place showing had gotten his campaign “back on track.” Those up front seemed to buy it, but a few of those standing out back were wondering if the good doctor has what it takes to compete in South Carolina after two consecutive drubbings. It’s a reasonable question: Wasn’t Dean supposed to have tied this thing up by now? When asked on Nightline what he learned in New Hampshire, Dean couldn’t think of anything better than it’s not such a good thing to be a “frontrunner early on.”
“We are going to win this nomination, aren’t we?” Dean asked supporters. That doesn’t bode well for Dean’s campaign. Didn’t he just spend the past two years asking the people of New Hampshire this question?
SPEAKING OF RIVERS in Egypt, Joe Lieberman cast his fifth place finish as a “three-way tie for third.” Clark and Edwards were both at 12 percent, Lieberman took nine percent. And some have the gall to question is our senators learning.
Dennis Kucinich celebrated his one percent finish with a raucous party. It looked like the scene of a great victory. Teens and twentysomethings were jumping up and down, cheering, and pretty much all agreed Kucinich would catch on and become president. A bunch of old, frazzle-haired hippies stood outside rolling cigarettes and puffing away.
“How do you feel?” I asked one of them.
“I feel groovy, man,” he said.
“Yeah, winning isn’t everything,” another added defensively. “Being a messenger is more important than being a winner.”
I didn’t make it to Edwards’ party, but I saw the speech on television. He gave his “two Americas” number yet again, which was something of a disappointment. A lot of people, myself included, thought he would do a bit better. Edwards seemed disappointed, but undeterred. He has, after all, been eagerly waiting for the day when the campaign moves south. But the tie between Edwards and Wesley Clark muddies things a bit, leaving the mantle of “major Southern contender” up for grabs in a very brief primary system. It’ll be high noon at the South Carolina Corral next week.
IN THE FINAL TALLY, Al Sharpton only collected 64 of the nearly 200,000 votes cast. Exit polls didn’t shed any light on his puzzling last place finish, but word on the street is his support was split down the middle between appreciative stand-up comedians and mischievous Republicans.
Well, it’s all over. John Kerry defied all expectations and won both Iowa and New Hampshire by impressive margins, making him a formidable candidate and proving the Dean Revolution was a paper tiger. Of course, much of that paper is green, and Dean will likely be around for some time yet.
But this small state, endlessly sneered at as “unrepresentative” by pundits who’d rather slog it out in warmer climes, has helped set the national agenda yet again. So now come two well deserved years of unclogged streets and silence, beautiful silence.