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Kerry: Around the far left corner, ahead by a nose

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted January 26, 2004

I tried to watch the Democrat debate at New Hampshire's St. Anselm's College last Thursday. My oldest daughter was a scholarship winner there and spent her freshman year at the college. It may have been the winters, but she decided there that she wanted to be a journalist and transferred to Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond.

But I digress. As I say, I tried to watch the debate. My wife Joyce even provided me with caramel corn so I could pretend I was watching the fights or a movie.

It turns out, according to the clips used Friday morning, I saw the most important moments. There was Gen. Wesley Clark's incredible reply to Peter Jennings' question about Michael Moore having called President Bush a deserter. Clark said that Moore was entitled to his opinion on the matter! When Jennings pressed him further about his own view, he said he had not looked into the facts. The fact is, deserters do not get honorable discharges, and Clark well knows Bush was honorably discharged.

Then there was the bumbling reply of Sen. John Edwards to Brit Hume's question about the Defense of Marriage Act. Edwards clearly did not either understand the question or the legislation or perhaps both. He also gave a poor answer when questioned about his short term of service in the U.S. Senate.

Dean and the most famous moment of his political career
Dean and the most famous moment of his political career

There was a solid debate performance by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who brought up his, "howling performance" following the Iowa caucus results. The Rev. Al Sharpton quipped that if he had spent what Dean had spent in Iowa and only got 18% of the vote he would still be howling!

Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-CT), gave an engaging performance, but unless every New Hampshire Democrat was watching and waiting to change his vote, it didn't matter.

I recall seeing a very strange performance by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, (D-OH), and I remember one reply from Sen. John Kerry, (R-MA), that had to do with his days as an anti-war protester. Perhaps Kerry put me to sleep? In any case, so far as I could ascertain Kerry did well in the debate, or at least well enough so that the polls, which showed him to be winning, will likely hold up.

Dean went on the Letterman show to make fun of himself and that was helpful, but probably not useful enough to make up for his disastrous performance Monday night. Voters, questioned by polling and news organizations, found that Dean's performance caused them to take a serious second look.

What happened in Iowa was so dramatic and unexpected that it simply overshadowed New Hampshire. Normally, New Hampshire gets a lot of media attention and often the results here are absolutely critical to the nominating process. Not so this time. First, there was only a week between Iowa and New Hampshire. Second, the State of the Union speech was given during that week. For more than a day the President got almost all of the news coverage. What was happening in New Hampshire received almost none. The Dean drama, being played out in the Hawkeye state, sucked out nearly all of the remaining "news oxygen."

No political observer should ever be overly sentimental. But I feel sorry for Joe Lieberman. Heck, I felt sorry for Dick Gephardt after Iowa. Both Lieberman and Gephardt are decent folks no matter how much I disagree with them. One can't help but wonder if they had kept to a pro-life position, would the results would have been different. As it was, pro-lifers - and there are lots of them in both Iowa and New Hampshire - had no reason to participate in the Democrat primary.

Back to Lieberman, he and his family have lived in New Hampshire for more than a month, and he had hoped for at least a second place finish there. As it appears now, he will be near the bottom. New Hampshire may well be the end of the line for Al Gore's running mate.

It is hard to see how Kucinich can hang on much longer. New Hampshire may be the end for him as well.

Sharpton has reason to hang on for at least South Carolina. There is an outside chance he can win there. Besides, if he drops out, the debates will have no entertainment value.

That leaves Clark and Edwards. Edwards had a chance to capitalize on his strong second place showing in Iowa. He didn't. Now he will have to demonstrate that he can win in the South. Interestingly, South Carolina's veteran Senior Senator Fritz Hollings has now endorsed Kerry. Endorsements don't mean much in this media age, but the Hollings move obviously won't help Edwards.

Clark was going to be the anti-Dean candidate. He was the candidate the establishment was flocking to, so that Dean's first place primary charge could be blunted. But there seems to be no need now to blunt Dean, so Clark is a candidate without a purpose. He also said too many nice things recently about Bush and his advisors, to be acceptable in the whole of the Democrat party... and now he is making goofy statements. He has become Planned Parenthood's candidate just as the public's views on abortion are moderating.

So-called Super Tuesday is coming up in three weeks. If Kerry can carry the South, then he alone will be there to shout, "Bring it on!"

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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