MANCHESTER, N.H.–While Howard Dean was busy trying to “Take Back America,” John Kerry took back New Hampshire. Decisively. How did it happen?
Granite Staters don’t like to follow Iowans, so it’s not Kerry’s strong caucus performance that gave him his 13-point victory here Tuesday night. Instead, it was the same granite sensibility that cost Bob Smith his Senate seat here in 2002: New Hampshire doesn’t suffer nut-balls well. When Bob Smith started to appear flaky and embarrass himself with a half-cocked presidential run in 2000, voters in New Hampshire replaced the sitting senator with then Rep. John Sununu in a remarkable primary election. When the extent of Howard Dean’s irascibility became clear, they said, “Thanks, but no thanks, nut-ball.”
Kerry slowly was ticking upwards in New Hampshire polls even before the Iowa caucuses. But the size of his victory Tuesday night–or even his victory at all–was not guaranteed until the scream that was heard round the world. Then Granite Staters gave up on Dean, and went to the dance with the boring guy from down the road who had asked them first anyway. (Indeed, John Kerry even stopped by my office at the Union Leader in 1999, when he was campaigning for Al Gore–just to make nice with the state’s conservative editorial page which criticizes his liberal voting record. Talk about a long courtship.)
But, sheesh, is he boring. Even Kerry’s victory party in New Hampshire was establishment–held in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn/Center of New Hampshire–Manchester’s Waldorf, where you run into all of the A-list media celebrities and politicians every four years. Manchester Mayor Bob Baines and former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen flanked him on stage. Under a banner reading, “John Kerry: Fighting For Us,” a man in a Brooks Brothers suit and rep tie stood on the bleachers, pumping one hand into the air, holding his cell phone to his ear with the other.
John Kerry: Fighting for Lobbyists?
What a difference from the Howard Dean campaign, where you could see the true belief on every volunteer’s face. Here at Kerry’s party, smirking rich preppie kids–straight out of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, but clothed–milled around the doorway to the ballroom, visions of their own White House offices dancing in their heads. Burberry scarves, Boston Red Sox baseball caps, trendy eyeglasses probably from Oliver Peoples–I felt like I was at a Boston University tailgate party. Oh, and the smell of beer–every Boston Irish Democrat had driven 45 minutes north to the victory party, and had a drink in hand. (With a name like mine, I can say that.)
“Wait till they find out he’s not Irish,” a tall gentleman standing next to me said. “They’ll all be out of here.” He was referring to the fact Kerry pretended to be Irish for more than 20 years in Massachusetts politics, when in truth his family name was “Kohn” and they were Austrian Jews. What a nut-ball thing to do. How embarrassing for the candidate who will likely be the Democratic presidential nominee. Hmmmmm…….
“That revelation is six months old,” I replied slowly, “Don’t all these people know that already?”
The gentleman–who admits he’s a John Edwards supporter–smiled and shook his head, “No. I’ve told three people here tonight, and they were shocked.”
All of a sudden, I started smiling too.
–Bernadette Malone is a columnist for the (Manchester, N.H.) Union Leader (and its former editorial-page editor) and the editor of Sentinel, a new conservative imprint at Penguin Group, USA.