GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (retired)
Thurs. Jan. 22: Ever since John Kerry was knighted with the title of "frontrunner," Gen. Wesley Clark has had to tweak his pitch just a bit.
Instead of simply touting his military service (as he did when the perceived frontrunner was Howard Dean), Clark now has to qualify that experience, given Kerry's own service in Vietnam. Clark uses phrases like "high-level" and "executive leadership" to distinguish his role in the armed forces from Kerry's.
After discussing patriotism and issues pertaining to veterans at a Portsmouth, N.H., Veterans of Foreign Wars hall Wednesday morning, Clark told reporters, "My military experience has been executive leadership so I know how to set goals, lay out the standards, bring people together, and get the mission accomplished."
Executive leadership is what Clark says sets him apart from Kerry. "We were both junior officers in Vietnam and we both did the same kinds of things in Vietnam, and we both won the Silver Star. That's not what's at issue here; it's two different paths of public service."
While Gen. Clark returned from Vietnam on a stretcher and stayed with the military, Kerry left the military and ran for public office – a different path Clark hopes will bolster support among veterans like Dennis Durpin. "I don't think legislators have the executive experience," said Durpin. "I think Gen. Clark's experience being the head of such a large organization such as the military is important."
According to Clark's head veteran mobilizer, Eric Massa, the campaign has more than 500 "Veterans for Clark" and "thousands" more who have expressed interest in Clark's campaign. While the veteran vote is important, one of Clark's handicaps is the fact that he is, well, a general.
One of the more frequent questions Clark is asked by voters in his town hall-style forums is whether or not his military credentials offer broad enough experience to lead a country. Usually he cites his varied duties as commanding officer, which included everything from ensuring healthcare and education, fixing potholes in the streets and stocking the commissary with pampers. Sometimes he even goes so far as to say he was a camp counselor at the age of 14.
Not all voters think that experience cuts it, however. After a "Conversation with Clark" in Rochester, N.H., Wednesday evening, one Kerry supporter explained her choice, saying, "He served in Vietnam and he has a very distinguished senatorial career, which is very important to me."
In a tactic that didn't jibe with the Clark's mantra of conducting a "positive" campaign, the veteran and commander of a local VFW, Brian Hardy, who introduced Clark to Rochester voters, sharply criticized Kerry.
"John Kerry has had an extreme makeover in Iowa. He's gone from a Boston-bred man of privilege and wealth to the man of the people. Don't buy what he's selling," Hardy told about 200 voters in the VFW hall, and thousands watching live on C-SPAN.
Hardy continued, "Wes Clark has led an army and he's administered to the health, housing and education needs for hundreds of thousands of military families across the globe. Mr. Kerry has run a Senate office, and now he wants to run the White House."
When Clark took the microphone from Hardy, he did not address the comments, but did so toward the end of the event.
"[John Kerry] is a friend of mine and whatever people say, I consider [Kerry] a patriot, I consider him a distinguished senator. I consider him a fine presidential candidate. And it's really up to the people of N.H. to make the distinction between the two of us. I'm here telling you what I believe in, what I stand for," Clark said, putting his diplomatic skills to work.
Clark's staff was quick to inform the press that Hardy's comments were unsolicited and denied the campaign knew the content of his introduction.
Hardy later confirmed that to reporters, saying, "This campaign didn't see any of my remarks and they never suggested I say a thing."
Clark may have put out a fire by addressing the situation. "That was really gentlemanly of you," said Kerry supporter Elaine Baillargeon, while asking Clark for his autograph.
"Well, I didn't know he was going to say anything like that," he said under his breath.
The battle for the veterans' votes is a tossup between Gen. Clark and Sen. Kerry, but one thing can be sure: the chances of the words "executive leadership" being used in tonight's Democratic candidates debate are pretty good.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.
Thurs. Jan 22: A refreshed John Kerry, who had gotten some sleep after a whirlwind Monday and Tuesday, delivered another speech Wednesday, dubbed by the campaign as "major." And, as usual, "major" meant that some small portion of the speech was dedicated to a "new" proposal, which turned out to be something he has talked about regularly on the stump: his prescription drug plan.
The new thing the 500 people at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H., really experienced was the length of Kerry's speech; it was shorter than any formal speech he has given in recent months, just 27 minutes. Kerry standing behind a podium during the campaign has usually meant a three-quarters-of-an-hour oration. Shaving 15 to 20 minutes off of his speech seemed like a godsend to the press, although it remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a trend.
After a few hours away from campaigning and participating in TV interviews, Kerry reemerged for an evening town-hall meeting at Phillips Exeter Academy, where he was introduced by his wife, Teresa. After the senator, a graduate of Exeter rival St. Paul's, cracked a couple of prep school jokes, he spoke to the crowd of 1,000 for about 20 minutes before taking questions. During the 50 minute Q&A, one Lyndon LaRouche supporter rambled on about his candidate and trying to impeach George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney. Kerry let the man have what felt like his 15 minutes then responded that the impeachment thing is almost unfeasible. "Seems to me it would be a lot faster if I just beat him in November," Kerry quipped.
The most interesting note of the day was the sheer number of media and voters now paying attention to Kerry following his surprise victory in Iowa. There were at least 100 members of the media at his Nashua speech while the campaign claims that at each event, people were turned away because both venues were filled to capacity. Additionally, two Boston polls show Kerry now holding a 10-point lead over Howard Dean in New Hampshire.
For a guy who keeps clinging to the notion that he's an "underdog," you wouldn't know it by the volume of folks at Kerry's events.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, D-Conn.
Thurs. Jan. 22: Sen. Lieberman was sporting a new pair of shoes Wednesday. He picked them up on Tuesday at The Timberland Company in Stratham, N.H.
The event began with a town hall meeting at Timberland. Lieberman joked that he's going to be "watching the press corps that travels with me to see how long they stay to hear my remarks before they work their way into the store." With a 40 percent-off discount card in our hands, he had reason to be worried.
After the event, senator, staff and press headed to the company store. Lieberman said he was "all about stimulating the New Hampshire economy," as he tried on a pair of shoes from the Beltway collection. From the looks of it, Lieberman liked the size10 ½ black leather with laces enough to buy two pairs.
In and of itself, a pretty normal shopping trip. However, on the campaign trail even the mundane becomes the sublime, the scrutinized and the pored over.
For starters, it's worth mentioning that while Lieberman has a small press entourage, he provides little to no personal, one-on-one access to reporters. And so, just seeing the senator in his stocking feet was a shocker and somewhat uncomfortable. No matter how many times presidential candidates flip flapjacks, spoon out chili or pack groceries at a local Stop-and-Shop, they never look natural or of the people; they look out of place and painfully pedestrian.
At the checkout line, Lieberman signed the credit card receipt "JL," as he does for fundraising letters and autographs.
But with all the cameras rolling, I wonder if he really could have done anything other than buy the pair of shoes. What else could he have done? Say, "No, I don't like this pair" or "My toes feel tight in these wingtips." Or "$160? Don't you think that's a bit much for loafers from last season?"
With the press hanging over his every public word, it's smile, buy, make a witty remark and move on.
I asked Ken Pucker, Timberland's chief operating officer, who served as Lieberman's chaperone during the shopping trip, "Have you ever touched the foot of a senator?" He replied, "No. This is very big for me... I just want to say that I fit Sen. Lieberman... Kerry came. He didn't get shoes. He could afford to buy the whole store! But he's different, you know?"
Lieberman, who was sitting quietly nearby just kept smiling and saying, "Keep going, keep going."
As for the Lieberman press team's purchases, Timberland got some of our hard-earned money. More importantly, we got to indulge in something normal, a much-needed change from our regimented lives on the trail where there's a schedule for everything – when we wake up, head to events, eat food, file and sleep. Plus, we got to add another item or two to our usual, and quite nauseatingly by now, familiar set of three mix-and-match outfits.
As one producer who covered the Bush campaign in 2000 for a year-plus told me, "By the time the election was over, I burned all the clothes that I had brought with me on the trail. I just couldn't bare to see them anymore". Indeed, any new sight on the trail is a sight for sore eyes.
FORMER VERMONT GOV. HOWARD DEAN
Wed. Jan. 21: Last night, Howard Dean was supposed to return to Vermont for a previously scheduled day without public events. Instead, he spent the night in New Hampshire in order to address staff and supporters at his state headquarters in Manchester this morning.
Dean, sounding hoarse and looking a little tired, presented his plan for an overhaul of the financing of presidential campaigns. The candidate wants public financing for all federal elections. Dean also wants a tax credit for the first $100 of contributions to a presidential candidate. Tomorrow, at yet another Democratic candidate debate, Dean will call for a $250 limit on campaign contributions with a 5:1 public match.
After his speech at headquarters, Dean headed for the van waiting outside to take him to the airport. As was the case twice last week in Iowa, the campaign ended up in a heated moment with the gathered press. With reporters, photographers and camera crews gathered outside the door and in the path to Dean's van, word went out to staff to clear a way for the governor.
Before the staff could react, Dean was on his way out. An aide tried to barrel his way through the waiting press, only to end up flailing with a determined reporter. The aide fell against some of the people in the crowd and another staffer was struck during the commotion as Dean moved toward the van.
On the way to the airport, Dean stopped by a Dunkin' Donuts, where he shook hands with patrons, received a $500 check from a supporter and again tried to work within the confines created by an abundance of photographers. After the stop, Dean flew back to Vermont where he did a whirlwind round of satellite interviews with television stations located mainly in New Hampshire or Feb. 3rd primary states.
Advisers to the governor expect their candidate to focus for the next few days on his message of removing special interests from politics. Staffers, however, are scrambling to come up with a way to shift the kind of press Dean has been receiving over the past week, and particularly, the past 48 Hours. Some staffers see New Hampshire as a must-win state for Dean and are making contingency plans should the governor fail in a state where he once held a commanding lead in the polls.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
Mon. Jan. 19: After appearing on several of the morning shows, Sen. Edwards began his public events Monday at Top Value Foods, a minority-owned grocery store in Des Moines. Since it is Martin Luther King's birthday, Edwards took this opportunity to talk about himself and his background in the South. Edwards often talks about the impact that segregation had on him as a young boy, and he told the crowd how appropriate it was to have the caucuses on this special day. "People died for the right to vote," he said.
Edwards then made a stop in Cedar Rapids where he talked to voters in a small diner. He's now heading to Davenport before returning to Des Moines around 5 p.m. Edwards will have a little down time until his campaign staff and supporters gather at the Savery Hotel around 8 p.m.
Edwards seemed tired this morning and his voice was a little hoarse. After all, he flew all over Iowa yesterday and when he returned around 11 p.m., he went to his headquarters to thank all of the volunteers and staffers for their hard work. "He came to rally the troops and close the deal," said one aide, adding, "It was really cool of him."
Edwards is using these last remaining hours to get into the three major media markets: Des Moines, Davenport and Cedar Rapids. His speeches have been short and sweet. It's actually the first time since I've been on the trail that we're ahead of schedule.