The Independent Newsweekly
|Behind the News|
Issue Date: December 12, 2003
'Angry' candidate pulls ahead of the Democratic pack in New Hampshire primary race
By JOE FEUERHERD
Manchesters Elm Street and the surrounding avenues whose storefronts have housed presidential campaigns for the past half-century are the boulevards of broken dreams. And its usually the winners who fall the hardest.
New Hampshires kingmaker reputation is among the great myths of American politics. Just ask presidents Estes Kefauver, Henry Cabot Lodge, Edmund Muskie, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, Patrick Buchanan and John McCain -- Granite State primary winners all (in 52, 64, 72, 88, 92, 96 and 00 respectively.)
New Hampshire is not even first anymore -- and hasnt been since 1976 when the former governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, converted Iowas cumbersome caucuses into the initial test of presidential timber. And for all the intensity of New Hampshires electorate -- the states primary voters have far more direct contact with would-be presidents than their counterparts in larger battlegrounds -- no one argues that the state looks like America.
New Hampshire remains a demographic dinosaur: more than 95 percent white, predominantly Republican and fiercely individualistic. The fact that candidates for the highest office in the land must pass muster with the residents of New Hampshire, a small New England state, is one of the greatest eccentricities of the American electoral calendar, writes St. Anselm College political science professor Dante Scala in Stormy Weather: The New Hampshire Primary and Presidential Politics, his just-released history of the primary.
But pass muster they must. The candidates bounce from town meetings and house parties, candidate forums and interest group-sponsored debates.
Their low-paid staffers work 12 to 18 hour days out of storefront offices in downtown Manchester. At night, they are as likely to collapse on the air mattresses of their unfurnished apartments as to grab a beer and tell each other lies (We really like where we are at this point) at Kosciuszko Streets Wild Rover pub.
Now, less than two months before the Jan. 26 primary, the race has taken shape. The man to beat is former Vermont governor Howard Dean -- the son of a Wall Street stockbroker, a medical doctor who opposed the war in Iraq and rails at campaign stop after campaign stop against the $3 trillion in tax cuts that primarily benefited Ken Lay and his buddies from Enron.
Fighting the last war is Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Few seem to care that Kerry is a combat hero and three-time Purple Heart recipient who returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s to lead opposition to that conflict. Instead, the focus is another war -- the one that Kerry, whether out of principle or pragmatism, voted to authorize last Oct. 11.
How bad is it for Kerry? A Boston Herald poll shows him losing Massachusetts -- a state he has represented in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades -- to upstart Dean.
Former House minority leader Richard Gephardt is considered formidable (though Dean recently peeled away the endorsements of both the service employees and public employees unions from the longtime friend of labor), and retired Gen. Wesley Clark is a mystery. To many, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is a gadfly. First-term North Carolina Sen. John Edwards resonates Clintonesque electability, but has yet to catch on. The once promising campaign of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman appears headed south -- and thats not a reference to the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Brauns underfunded effort and the Rev. Al Sharptons quixotic campaign round out the field.
For the moment, and perhaps beyond, its all about Dean.
Operatives from competing campaigns echo the same line: The 55-year-old five-term governor is angry. Which, presumably, is not a good thing. Alluding to the stethoscope Dean displayed at a late November AARP candidates forum, one opposing campaign staffer said shed like to place a blood pressure cuff on the former Vermont governors arm. Hed probably explode.
Deans demeanor -- his disdain for Bushs war, for the presidents handling of foreign policy and for his domestic programs -- is, in a word, angry. Speaking on an unseasonably warm November evening to high school and college students gathered at St. Anselm Colleges Institute for Politics, Dean (the only one to show up in person; Kucinich participated by phone) is blunt, feisty, combative.
At a town meeting an hour later in the Salem High School gym, Dean lambastes Bushs credit card presidency, calls for a balanced budget, condemns Ken Lay and the boys who run Enron, and questions President Bushs policy toward North Korea. I dont think the foreign policy of the United States should be based on the petulance of a president, said Dean.
The angry persona cant be sustained, say the other campaigns. Americans want optimism, not a sour puss.
But maybe tempestuousness will be the rage this year -- particularly among Democratic primary voters who oppose the war in Iraq, think Bushs tax cuts are a giveaway to the wealthy, and believe the president and his well-positioned brother stole the 2000 election in Florida.
Dean, says political scientist Scala, is like that character from the movie Network -- hes mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
Which a good number of New Hampshire Democrats, kingmakers or not, seem to like just fine.
Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: email@example.com