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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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Revised prediction: Dean finishes second, calls it a "comeback," and heads south still unable ultimately to win the nomination, I think. But still in the race in the meantime, just the same.

JOHN EDWARDS is the wildcard for anybody trying to guess how things will look tomorrow morning. He has spent the week since his second-place triumph in Iowa treating New Hampshire audiences to stump speeches filled with increasingly lurid, Huey Long-level populist demagoguery. His own Palace Theatre appearance in Manchester yesterday evening, for instance, featured attacks on unspecified "people [who] are stealing your democracy" in Washington; "predatory" and "abusive" big banking interests; "war profiteering" defense contractors who've "bought" their way to influence with campaign contributions; and the rich, fancy types who go to all the right schools and always tell "folks like us" that "you can't do this." John Edwards doesn't really believe a word of this; it's a totally cynical, manipulative stratagem--repellent, even. But it always goes over big with the crowds. And my impression's been that Edwards is the one candidate whose events this week--including the one last evening at the Palace--were still drawing significant numbers of undecided voters.

Revised prediction: If these undecided voters make a major, last-minute break for Edwards, he could finish third and thus maintain a sufficient supply of "momentum" juju to head south into the next round of primaries. If he finishes fourth, though, I think he's dead.

JOHN KERRY'S still going to win, I suppose, but you'd never have known that looking at his rally in Salem High School last night--what turned out to be the last major public event any of the candidates held. The damn thing started almost an hour late--close to 8:30 p.m., and Kerry's audience, 400 people maybe, was restless. When it did finally start, that audience was made to listen to not-especially-interesting speeches by both of Kerry's twenty-something daughters. And then the audience was made to listen to an interminable stand-up routine by Kerry's twenty-something stepson. He does political impersonations, see--Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton and so forth. They're not very good.

Kerry himself spoke only briefly, and people started heading for the doors and home almost from the moment he began, so that by the time he was done, it looked like a quarter of the crowd had already disappeared. Which is too bad; the early-departers wound up missing an all-time classic Kerryism: "I think it's time we had a president who asked us to go to the moon right here on Earth by making certain that we are the generation that makes clear that never should young Americans in uniform ever be held hostage to America's dependence on oil in the Middle East." It didn't make sense in context, either.

Revised prediction: As I say, Kerry finishes first and heads south the clear frontrunner. But he won't stay the frontrunner if he starts to coast like he was last night.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.