By David Paul Kuhn
CBSNews.com Chief Political Writer
Lobstermen were still leaving the dock as supporters of Sen. John Kerry gathered in Portsmouth at dawn to prepare for the Massachusetts senator's last day of campaigning before the pivotal New Hampshire primary.
"I usually vote for someone who'll lose, like Bradley or Muskie or McGovern. Now I think I got a winner," said an early-rising Eileen Foley, a former Portsmouth mayor.
"I've been a fan since he wore a uniform and I was so pleased when he became the front-runner," she later told a crowd of about 200 people who had gathered to hear Kerry speak.
"We're down to the last hours," the Massachusetts senator told the audience at Yoken's "Thar She Blows" restaurant. "Tomorrow in New Hampshire we mark the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency."
As he has throughout the campaign, Kerry referred to his record as a decorated Vietnam War veteran. Contrasting President Bush's military background with his own, Kerry said the president "thinks it's okay to play dress up on an aircraft carrier and saunter in and stand in front of a sign that says 'mission accomplished.'" [Mr. Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. He did not serve in Vietnam.]
"The mission wasn't ... accomplished in Iraq. It hasn't been accomplished here at home," Kerry said.
All the candidates are hungry to corral undecided voters, and Kerry apparently picked up support from at least one of them - Mark Klein, a former theoretical physicist turned entrepreneur.
Klein, 69, asked Kerry how he was going to stand up to President Bush. The front-runner said that would be based upon his military and legislative record.
"If the worst thing they can say about me is that I'm a liberal, well, then, bring it on," Kerry said.
Klein immediately responded by shouting out, "You've got me."
"He made me feel like he was going to address the issues, and when the attacks come he's got a great answer, telling them to come at him with substance, not labels," Klein said after the gathering.
To win the primary, Kerry needs to do well in places like Portsmouth. With a seafaring history exceeding 400 years, Portsmouth is more town than city. The closest ice-free port to Europe in the Americas, many of Portsmouth's 20,000 residents date back generations.
Just blocks from the docks, in temperatures well below freezing, supporters of various candidates visited shops, cheered on corners, brandished signs and covered lampposts with literature.
"People take this seriously," said Deputy Sheriff Dick Frank. "Look at them up so early. I was a Dick Gephardt supporter and now I'm with Kerry. I was with Clark but I don't think he has a chance, and the fact Kerry looks to be able to win, he's got me."
Shortly after his visit to Portsmouth, Kerry took a helicopter across the width of the state for another town hall meeting in Keene, one of five Kerry campaign events on Monday.