The Blog

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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One: I recognized, but seriously underestimated, the extent to which John Kerry's emergence as a more-than-viable alternative to Dean would undermine the basic rationale for Clark's candidacy and thus limit Clark's appeal to late-deciding, go-with-the-winner voters. Two: I failed to anticipate--as I surely could've, having watched him enough already--that Clark would perform so dismally in the final debate last Thursday night. Three: Clark's debate performance is no excuse, really; his whole campaign--its vacuousness, his unpreparedness--has been one, long, standing insult to the voters. I, myself, should have given them greater credit for the intelligence necessary to figure that out.

Revised prediction: Clark finishes fourth. Or maybe a weak third. No better.

HOWARD DEAN, who will not finish fourth, of course, held a midday "town hall" meeting in downtown Manchester's Palace Theatre yesterday. There was a heroic documentary about Dean being projected on a giant screen over the stage as the crowd filed in: throbbing, symphonic music and quick-cut still photos of America's founding documents interspersed with video clips of the governor delivering stirring speech lines--the kind of thing they make people watch at National Park Service visitors centers. A lot of people got to watch this film; the place was packed. And a lot of people, it seems to me, watched it with awed expressions on their faces, mouths slightly ajar--because the place was packed with long-time Dean faithful, and not a single undecided voter I could find. A fair number of them appeared to have been bused in by the governor's union backers: the Service Employees and AFSME, who had T-shirted members sitting in two rows of chairs arranged behind Dean's lectern on the stage. And most of the rest of the audience was young people, who clapped and cheered the whole time through, no matter what.

For example. A few minutes into Dean's opening presentation, he'd just begun an anecdote about healthcare policy--"Last night I was up in a meeting up in Plymouth and a guy got up and he said, 'Governor . . .'"--when the very same guy got up again, some place in the Palace Theatre's balcony, and interrupted him: "That's me! That's me!" This was "John," who proceeded to bellow out his story for all to hear:

When I moved to Vermont I was unemployed. I got a job as a dishwasher. And when you walk home in New England you freeze. I needed to see a doctor. So I went to the State of Vermont. Under Gov. Dean I got to see a doctor for $2 a visit. I got to see a dentist for $3, and I still got a lollipop! Some people heard Howard Dean scream and it made them run away. I heard Howard Dean scream and it made me wake up!

John's "lollipop" reference occasioned appreciative laughter and applause throughout the auditorium. John's reference to Gov. Dean's manic episode on Iowa caucus-night, however, what the rest of the universe considers a mistake, produced a genuine bedlam of enthusiasm.

These were people for whom Howard Dean cannot make a mistake. "I think a strong defense is imposs--is--is important," Dean said at one point; nobody seemed to notice. A few minutes later, two doctors wearing white coats, a married couple who'd brought their two young children along, walked out on stage to present the governor a token of their esteem--a stethoscope--and wish him well. "That was a total surprise," Dean remarked--unconvincingly--once his admirers had slipped back behind the curtain. And then he made a slip of the tongue that explicitly exploded the fiction: "This campaign is nothing if not scripted." So what, though? The whole place laughed, and Dean laughed, too.

Something went wrong toward the end of the event. There was an extended disruption by a group of LaRouche people hollering something about Dick Cheney. It was very ugly, as is the LaRouche movement's style. And poor Judy Dean, the governor's wife, seated up on stage with the SEIU and AFSCME people, had to watch the whole thing: hands clasped tightly in her lap, eyes opened wide. I felt bad for her; she'd probably never seen anything like it. I'd seen it a hundred times, and I still found it spooky and unsettling.

But even this couldn't deter the Deaniacs or puncture their mood. "Dean! Dean! Dean!" they chanted, each time some LaRouche lunatic's Dick Cheney lecture needed drowning out. "We want Dean!"

I always figured these folks would stick with Dean to the bitter end. I always figured they'd total up to about 20, 25 percent of the New Hampshire primary electorate, too. I just did the addition wrong, idiot that I am. If Dean finishes today with 20-25 percent of the vote, it's almost mathematically impossible for him to finish fourth. Duh.