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Revised Predictions

Dean's bitter-enders; Clark's mania; Kerry's coasting; and Edwards's populism: What if they held a primary and everyone lost?

12:30 PM, Jan 27, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
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Manchester, New Hampshire

YESTERDAY, the final full day of campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, began--for me, anyway--at Timoleon's, a Main Street coffee shop in Keene, about an hour and a bit west of here. The restaurant's owner, Timoleon "Lindy" Chakalos, is a big-time Civil War buff and Lincoln admirer. Prominently displayed on the wall over the diner's stool counter, for example, is a paper cutout of the Railsplitter's head that's been taped to a chalkboard on which Lindy has carefully copied out the "malice toward none" passage from the Second Inaugural, among the half-dozen greatest pieces of oratory in all recorded human history. Shortly before 10:00 a.m. yesterday, Honest Abe was looking down on a crowd of about 50 in Timoleon's, more than half of us from the media, as retired Gen. Wesley Clark, standing on a table up front near the door, delivered . . . well, it wasn't one of the half-dozen greatest pieces of oratory in all recorded human history, let's put it that way. Here's the thing in its entirety, just so's nobody thinks I'm being unfair:

This is the final day of the week before the election. And New Hampshirites will go to the polls and they will vote and they will make the decision and it's gonna be a big part of who becomes the next president of the United States.

I'm running for this office to bring a higher standard of leadership to Washington. I'm an outsider. I'm not part of the problems in Washington. I've never taken money from lobbyists. I've never cut a deal. I've never run for votes. I've never cut deals for votes. I'm not part of the problem that's gone wrong in this government. And I am someone who's put his life on the line to serve this country for my entire adult life.

I was in one war I came home from on a stretcher with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. My son was a lieutenant in the Army. I believe in our veterans. I believe in public service. And I led our forces in another war that saved a million and a half people. If you want someone to get us out of a war, you elect a general who's been in a war and knows how little can be accomplished by fighting.

I'm the only person in this race who's ever done serious foreign policy and been where the rubber meets the road. I've sat at the negotiating tables. I've led forces and countries in conflict, so I know how to do it. And I'm a businessman. I've taught economics. I've been on the civilian side of government. I know how government works. I have the skills, the energy, the insight, the dedication, that can change this government.

And there's one more thing I can say about myself unlike all the rest of the people in this race. I did grow up poor. My father died when I was not quite four. We had $424. My mother moved us to Arkansas. We moved in with her parents in a rented house. She was a secretary in a bank. And I was brought up to know the difference between what I want and what I need. I didn't go to Yale. My parents couldn't have afforded to send me there. I went to West Point. I paid my own way through college. I worked my way through. I worked for this country. And I'm running for this race--in this race--because I want to help Americans like me.

I want each one of you here to go out and get your friends and neighbors and this is the final push, we need their support across this state and through this community. This is a time for change in America. The old ideas are gone. It's time that ordinary people took charge in this government and made it work for ordinary people. And I'm the ordinary person in this race. And I've got the skills and the dedication and heart to lead this country.

Alert readers will have noticed that this, Gen. Ordinary Person's closing-sale stump speech, includes not a single word--not one--about what he'd actually do were he elected president.

FIVE OR SIX days ago in this space, analyzing the primary race's altered post-Iowa landscape and venturing into unaccustomed instapundit prediction territory, I suggested that Howard Dean might finish as low as fourth place in today's New Hampshire voting. There were a number of things wrong with that forecast, I've since come to think. And it seems to me that most of my error involved Clark.