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Views From New Hampshire Muskie: Exhausted and on the Run

By E.j. Dionne and Susan F. Kinsley

Notre Dame Church was quiet. The celebrant had just finished the prayer before Communion. "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak only a word and I shall be healed," the celebrant intoned in French.

Edmund Sixtus Muskie (Muskie of Maine! trumpeted the ads and leaflets) was seated in the first pew. He quietly got up, went up to the Communion rail and returned to his seat before anybody moved.

It's interesting to speculate on what Muskie was praying for when he went to the rail. He may have been asking for physical strength. For what was clear throughout the rest of that weekend before the New Hampshire Primary--and in Florida as well--was that Muskie was worn out.

Muskie had marched to Manchester's Notre Dame Church in a parade sponsored by four New Hampshire and Maine Snowshoe Clubs. Each club was represented by a marching band dressed in tunics. Robin Hood boots and beanie caps in the two technicolor shades of their town--purple and orange, fuchsia and black, mauve and tangerine Watching the tired, somber 6 ft. 4 in. Muskie, attired entirely in black from his Russian cap to the circles under his eyes, move into the midst of the Snowshoe groups to shake hands one might properly ask. "Who was the wiseacre film director who spliced Boris Karloff in with the munchkins of the Wizard of Oz?"

As he walked out of church, Muskie came face-to-face with a dozen newsmen, several TV cameras pointed straight at his nose and five or six Vietnam Veterans Against the War who shouted pointed questions from behind the crowd. Muskie was patient with the newsmen but answered the questions of the Vietnam vets in textbook phrases.

He finally escaped the crowd and walked slowly to his car, surrounded this time by more friendly French-Canadian Democrats. Most of them had heard of the Manchester Union Leader's "Cannuck" charge but they didn't seem to care much.

On election night, Muskie seemed happy with the results, but his showing wasn't enough to shake off the blues and the exhaustion which hampered him in the final days of the race in the Granite State. In Florida, while Hubert Humphrey was working twelve-to-sixteen hour days in an effort to shake every hand he could find. Maskie was taking long rest breaks between stops to try to recover the life which seemed to have been sucked out of him by the prospect of having to face 22 more primaries.

And so he received only 9 per cent of the vote in the Sunshine state, less than half the Humphrey total. The defeat say Muskie's aides, may be exactly what the Muskie campaign needs.

"The irony of the defeat is that it will make him what we all wanted him to be a year ago--a liberal alternative to Hubert Humphrey," one of his aides told the New York Times Wednesday.

More than that, the defeat could place Muskie back into the position he was so much accustomed to in Maine politics--that of the underdog. Don Nicoll, who worked with Muskie through all of his upset victories in Maine, commented after seeing the Florida results. "One of the things people forget is that he is out of his element when he's out in front. Now it feels like 1954 all over again."

Given Muskie's disappointing showing in New Hampshire and the disaster in Florida, it's clear that the senator's efforts to win as a front-runner have failed. He's now starting over again, this time as an underdog, and it's possible that the Florida results will give him the extra--even though bitter--dose of orange juice be needs as he makes his new start.

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