MANCHESTER -- Twelve hours after the bizarre imitation at his Iowa pity party of an overweight Mick Jagger having a seizure, Howard Dean was back on the campaign trail. He looked tired and reserved. Specifically, he looked like a man who had seen the footage of himself making a complete ass of himself, airing on national television all night. It's a distinctive look.
The 20 or so Deaniacs standing outside the convention center their leader was set to visit were met with a vicious dig courtesy of the junior senator of Massachusetts. From one end of the street to the other were bright red signs that read: "Doubting Dean? Vote Kerry." The former frontrunner's volunteers busied themselves handing out pamphlets on his "electability." The package included a line about his lead in Iowa polls -- not a great sign.
Dean had declared his appearance a preemptive State of the Union address. A large banner hung over the stage reading, "Give 'em Hope, Howard." But the mission of the day was rather more limited: undo some of the damage from his performance the night before.
"Today I'm going to give a different kind of speech," Dean explained, using his indoor voice. "So for those of you who came here planning on being lifted to your feet by my red meat rhetoric, you are going to be disappointed. Although we might get to some of that before we're done."
He then gave pretty much the same stump speech he's given for the last two years -- this time without the shouting or gnashing of teeth. George W. Bush is Herbert Hoover, the "credit card president." He's a job-losing, universal healthcare-hating, war-mongering, deficit-loving right-winger intent on ending all democratic dissent and eliminating a "woman's right to choose." Things might look pretty good to Bush "from the balcony of the White House," Dean said. But things are just "a bit tougher down on Main Street."
"This president is exercising his power to deprive most of you of the things you have worked for for a long time, including a strong sense of community," he warned.
KINDER AND GENTLER he may be, but Dean still had no patience for any Democrats not from the "Deanocrat" wing of the Democratic Party. He complained that his Party had failed to "stand up to George Bush" until a certain someone came along, and now this poor doctor wasn't getting any credit for turning the entire party around.
"The campaign has changed a lot," he said. "Democrats are standing up and saying their peace, criticizing the president. Some are having a little trouble explaining their voting records, but they're doing the best they can."
Dean is having trouble sorting out his opponents' voting records as well. Once again, he told the crowd he was the "only" candidate who "opposed the war [with Iraq] from the start," intentionally shafting poor beleaguered Dennis Kucinich.
During the question and answer, Deaniacs did their best to make up for the red meat deficit. One woman directed her query to the "reporters down front" rather than Dean. "I don't know if any of you are with Fox News," she explained, "but I'd just like to say that the Fox Network is an embarrassment to this country, and I hope someday that all Fox Network reporters will be out of a job!"
Dean smiled at the opportunity to get a bit nasty. He noted a recent poll that showed a majority of Fox News viewers thought Saddam Hussein had something to do with September 11. Dean laughed the idea off as nonsense, before saying matter-of-factly, "NPR is a better source of news."
When the crowd finally stopped applauding, Dean showed off the humility for which he's become so well known. "I really appreciate that standing ovation, because that is louder than any one the president is going to get for his speech tonight," he said.
He was back in Dean country. And it felt good.
New Hampshire Republicans End Up All Wet
Last weekend New Hampshire's congressional Republicans, the Governor, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist all gathered to encourage Republicans to go to the polls primary night and vote for George W. Bush despite the lack of any formidable challenge to his candidacy.
It was a pretty boring affair until about midway through freshman Senator John Sununu's speech when the heat from television lights set off the high powered sprinkler system, soaking about a quarter of the elegantly dressed crowd in seconds. I thought the whole spectacle was fairly amusing myself until a hotel worker came over shouting that anyone who "did not want to be electrocuted" should get out of the water, pronto.
The speeches started up again a few minutes later but many had decided to call it a night and go home. The rest of us had to sit through a hundred hokey jokes about certain people being "all wet" and Democrats infiltrating the event.
When Frist finally made it up to speak, firemen were roping off part of the room with yellow "CAUTION" tape. The lights directly overhead shorted out at one point with a pop, causing him to exclaim that he'd "better hurry up, because I am really ready to get out of here." Frist said he'd emailed his wife to tell her that "anything can happen in New Hampshire."
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