MANCHESTER, N.H.—An eager field of Democratic candidates raced across the Granite State this weekend with an impending sense of urgency and new set of expectations in advance of tomorrow’s crucial primary vote.
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., appeared poised to win the election, while his opponents fought to secure coveted second and third-place finishes. The campaign of Gov. Howard B. Dean, hoping to rebound after a disappointing showing in Iowa last week, seemed particularly invested in tomorrow’s results.
Candidates flipped pancakes and stuck to their talking points at events across New Hampshire on Saturday and Sunday, while volunteers—including scores of Harvard students—waved signs and distributed materials for the various campaigns.
Volunteers for each of the candidates remained under strict orders to avoid criticizing opponents, an indication that the amicable tone of Thursday night’s debate was likely to extend through tomorrow’s primary.
Supporters of Sen. John R. Edwards, D-N.C., said the newly-positive tenor of his rivals was an affirmation of the senator’s buoyant campaign style, which many pundits identified as the driving factor behind Edwards’s surprising second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
“Cynics didn’t build this country. Optimists built this country,” Edwards told the crowd at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Nashua Saturday night.
His comments drew the evening’s only standing ovation at an event in which six of the seven candidates delivered remarks.
A pancake breakfast hosted by Gen. Wesley K. Clark in a firehouse garage in bucolic Auburn, N.H. Saturday morning filled the room beyond capacity. The fire marshal warned he might have to shut down the event for safety concerns.
Clark, whose theme of a “higher standard of leadership” has marked his campaign since its inception in September, reiterated earlier remarks comparing his own military background to that of Kerry.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I stayed in the American Armed Forces.” Clark told the crowd. “I have executive experience. That’s why I am the better candidate.” The line echoed recent statements in which Clark has reminded voters that he was a general, while Kerry only was a lieutenant.
Kerry addressed that Clark talking point in a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast on CBS last night.
“That’s the first time I have heard the general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars,” Kerry said.
A more jubilant crowd gathered to rally for Kerry on Saturday morning in Concord, N.H., where the Massachusetts senator appeared to have drawn significant support away from the Dean campaign.
Kenneth J. Barnes ’70, recalling his own days as a Harvard student campaigning for the doomed 1968 Eugene J. McCarthy campaign, said he once supported Dean but now planned to vote for Kerry.
“He just hasn’t been that impressive, even before the scream,” Barnes said, referring to Dean’s raucous—and heavily criticized—concession speech in Iowa Monday night.
When asked what he would say to Harvard students considering a vote for a Yalie like himself, Kerry said, “We should focus on what unites us.”
Kerry, Dean, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman—along with President George W. Bush—are all Yale graduates.
Lieberman, D-Conn., has remained stagnant in New Hampshire, although the campaign pressed journalists over the weekend to acknowledge the Connecticut senator’s slight uptick in most polls following his performance in Thursday night’s debate.
The most recent tracking poll by the American Research Group showed Lieberman with just 5 percent of the vote, while Kerry led with 38 percent. Clark, Dean and Edwards wrangled for the second position with 17, 16 and 15 percent, respectively.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Other tracking polls by Gallup and Zogby gave Kerry the lead but showed Dean in command of second place with more than 20 percent of the vote.
At the Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening Clark more or less stuck to his standard stump speech, but also spoke more frankly than ever before about his previous political affiliations.
“I have to tell you honestly, I haven’t been a member of the Democratic Party for that long,” said Clark, who has acknowledged previous votes for Richard M. Nixon and Ronald W. Reagan.
The votes and the recency of his registration with the Democratic Party have dogged Clark in debates and on the campaign trail, and members of the Dean camp have recently accused Clark of being a Republican.
But in a subdued address Saturday night, the former general attempted to display his Democratic colors.
“We Democrats have got to take out the president,” Clark said, speaking in his preferred military vernacular.
Joshua S. Gottheimer, a third-year Harvard Law student who is also Clark’s chief speechwriter, emphasized the general’s electability in the South.
Gottheimer recently revised the speech for a tour of the South to focus on a redefinition of “family values” to include issues like healthcare, jobs and education.
“We went down South, and we had a discussion of values. And we thought we should bring it up North,” Gottheimer said.
—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.