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A Deanie Baby Who Won't Quit

CBS News Reporter Eric Salzman is traveling with the Dean campaign.

At 9:45 Tuesday morning, Hillary Hampton's head was planted firmly face down on a table in the Dean campaign workspace in the Homewood Suites, the Manchester hotel where Dean press and campaign workers stayed this past week. Knowing the kind of hours Dean staff and volunteers had been putting in lately, I felt a little bad about disturbing her, but I needed help.

I came to meet Hillary because I missed the press bus (I really thought they said it would leave at 10:00 am, not 9:30.), and I needed a ride to the site where Dean was doing last-minute Primary Day campaigning. Clearly in need of sleep, but completely undaunted, Hillary Hampton bolted up and was ready to go. We piled into her blue Volkswagen bug and zipped up Rt. 293 to meet the group.

She had me caught up to the campaign in a flash. And I figured it was a flash; another reporter and another campaign intern crossing paths for one ride, chatting for a bit and then waving good-bye. Maybe reporter and staffer bump into each other again at a town-hall meeting, at a campaign stop in a diner, but just as likely not.

But then Tuesday night, I saw Hillary again at Southern New Hampshire University, where Dean supporters were gathered to watch the results of what turned out to be a disappointing primary for their candidate. Hillary, in her early 20s and working on her first campaign, like a number of people in the room, was having trouble holding back her tears.

"I just have so much hope about what Howard Dean can accomplish," she said, as part of an explanation for her emotions. The tears were also part exhaustion.

Hillary went to the University of Florida for two years but then moved to New Hampshire, where she worked for Americorps last year. In May, she started volunteering for the Dean campaign. For the past few months, she has worked seven days a week as a media monitor, getting to the campaign office at 3:30 a.m. and often staying as late as midnight. "I would take naps on the couch in the office," she said.

She is the classic Deanie Baby: a first-timer in politics, young, dedicated and a believer that the Dean campaign is more than a campaign, that it's a movement.

Hillary doesn't get paid; in fact, she shelled out $20 for her Dean for America hooded sweatshirt. "It's one of my most prized possessions," she said. "And when he's president, it's going to be pretty cool to walk around in a sweatshirt that says 'staff.'"

Senior members of the Dean "staff" had high hopes Tuesday afternoon. The notion of a win remained in the back of their minds, but realistically, they hoped for a second-place finish within five points of Sen. John Kerry, to demonstrate a rebound from where they began the week in the polls. Some of the staff sat around as early exit polls came in trying to think up different words they could use to say "comeback."

Once the votes were tallied, the results of the New Hampshire primary were not necessarily a comeback for Dean, nor were they necessarily a nail in the coffin. For Hillary Hampton, though, it doesn't matter either way.

"When I got involved he had no chance of winning and I knew that," she said. But since then, her attitude had changed; Dean became the front-runner and seemed to be on a clear path to the nomination. Hillary still thinks Dean could be the nominee; however, she sees a more important point.

"This campaign has changed so much about democracy and politics," she said with the utmost sincerity. "It's changed people's lives."

Hillary is one of the true believers. Her plan of action post-primary night: "I'm going to go get many beers." But then in the morning, she will be back at the office. "I'm really looking forward just to being with everyone tomorrow."

Hillary says she is determined to continue. She's ready for redeployment and will take any state the campaign assigns.

So, I figure, somewhere down the line as I follow Gov. Dean on the trail – be it in South Carolina, Michigan or Florida – I'll run into Hillary Hampton. And if I miss the bus again, hopefully she'll be there to give me a lift.

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