Ballot Box

Break Through or Die

The fallout from New Hampshire.

Kerry’s state

Here are a few observations on tonight’s primary results and speeches from New Hampshire.

1. John Kerry’s Southern strategy. He previewed the offensive weapons of his Southern campaign in his victory speech: military service and economic populism. The speech glittered with tributes to veterans. In this campaign, “I depended on the same band of brothers I depended on some 30 years ago,” said Kerry. He saluted Max Cleland, the Vietnam amputee and former Georgia senator who will spearhead Kerry’s march through the South. Kerry also declared war on “powerful special interests.” He said his New Hampshire victory “belongs not to the privileged … Join us so that we can defeat George W. Bush and the economy of privilege.” On CNN, Kerry claimed to stand for “the average person.”

Defensively, Kerry indicated on CNN that he would rebut the “Massachusetts liberal” charge by advertising his support for welfare reform and for President Clinton’s program for 100,000 new cops. While rejecting assault weapons, Kerry pointed out that he’s a gun owner and hunter. He even dabbled in Southern colloquialism, scoffing, “That dog won’t hunt.”

My guess is that the military stuff will play big, but the populism will bust. With his Forbes family lineage, Skull and Bones education, and fabulously rich wife—never mind the $6 million he contributed to his own campaign by mortgaging his $10 million house—Kerry can’t credibly run against “the privileged.” If he makes it to November, he’ll also come to regret his criticism of Bush tonight for trampling the boundary between church and state. That’s the kind of talk that wins Concord and loses Chattanooga.

2. Howard Dean’s money. The most significant comments tonight came from Dean, in response to questions about whether he might have to drop out if he doesn’t win a couple of states on Feb. 3. “No, all we have to do is keep the enormous support of the grass roots behind us. We raised a lot of money this week over the Internet,” Dean said on CNN. On Fox News, Dean affirmed, “We raised more money this week than I think any of the other candidates did. We have a very strong base of small donors.” Dean went on to tout the organizations he has built with that money in states holding primaries over the next month. How poignant: The man who entered this race pledging to elevate people above money now pledges to survive on money despite losing the votes of the people.

3. No more Mr. Mean Guy. Was Dean chastened by the criticism of his belligerence in Iowa? You bet. Note the frequency of these words in his speech tonight:

Together: 6.

We’re all in it together (variants): 4.

Hope: 2.

Divided/divider: 8.

Uniter: 2.

4. Wes Clark spinning his wheels. Clark’s upbeat take on his 12 percent showing—”Four months ago, we weren’t even in this race”—didn’t go over well. Usually a candidate can make his returns look better by pointing out that he used to be farther back in the polls. Clark can’t. He led the national polls the minute he entered the race, and earlier this month, he climbed to a close second in New Hampshire before losing half his support. That’s why the only low expectation he can point to, absurdly, is the obsolete supposition that he might not have run at all.

5. John Edwards’ smile. I’ve seen Edwards smile with joy. That’s what he was doing on caucus night in Iowa. The corners of his mouth kept curling up as Edwards tried to restrain them a bit. Tonight it was the other way around: Edwards claimed to “feel good” about his narrow loss to Clark for third place, but gravity kept tugging at the corners of Edwards’ mouth as he strained to grin. It’s clear he had hoped to do better.

6. The Edwards VP drumbeat. Twice on CNN, Edwards was asked about joining the Democratic ticket, presumably Kerry’s, as the running mate. Edwards brushed off these questions, but he can expect more of them as long as he’s touting his appeal in the South while failing to stop Kerry.

7. Musical chairs. There’s no point in primaries unless they winnow the field. In the early contests, the accepted rule is that at least one candidate has to die in each round. In Iowa, that meant Dick Gephardt. In New Hampshire, it means Joe Lieberman. His claim of a three-way tie for third won’t wash, because 1) it wasn’t really a tie (he trailed Clark and Edwards by three percentage points), 2) he had already withdrawn from Iowa, 3) he had literally moved to New Hampshire in an all-out wager, and 4) a tie for third means nothing when, among the credible candidates, it’s also a tie for last. I’m a Lieberman Democrat. But as tonight’s results demonstrate, we’re a pretty lonely group.