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Lovefest At Kerry Headquarters

By David Paul Kuhn Chief Political Writer

As nearly a thousand of his supporters erupted in cheers and applause, a victorious Sen. John Kerry took the stage at his New Hampshire campaign headquarters. The ecstatic winner of the nation's first primary shook supporters' hands, embraced his wife and looked out on a scene hardly imaginable a month ago, when he trailed by more than double digits in statewide polling.

"I love New Hampshire," the Massachusetts senator told the crowd, as those in back stood on their tiptoes and loyalists screamed in excitement. "I love Iowa, too," he continued, the crowd cheering louder now. "And I hope, with your help, to have the blessings and the opportunity to love a lot of other states in the days to come."

Having now won the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, both by commanding margins, Kerry is well positioned for the seven primaries to come on Feb. 3, including the important states of South Carolina and Missouri.

With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote was 39 percent for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, 26 percent for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, 12 percent for retired Gen. Wesley Clark, 12 percent for Rep. John Edwards, 9 percent for Lieberman, 1 percent for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and 1 percent for all other candidates combined.

"This victory belongs to all of you, who made the phone calls, walked the snowy cold streets, gave your hearts and your hands and countless sleepless nights," said Kerry. "Because of you, this has been a successful and a happy campaign."

Standing as tall as he could, 19-year-old Austin Mill shook his head in appreciation. He listened, taking the gratitude to heart. Mill has been in north New Hampshire for five days, braving the cold, knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets and doing all he could to have his candidate on this stage, with this decisive victory.

"Talk about inspiring, hearing him speak, there is such vibrancy in here," Mill said over the crowd. "But tonight we are going to drive all around, put the top down and put the music up loud," the political science major continued, pushing his black hair out of his eyes. "We'll take off our shirts in the cold and wake up Manchester."

High-fives flew as drinks were poured in celebration. Two years too young to drink in New Hampshire, Mill was a bit disappointed at that, but fully excited just the same at Kerry's big win.

"We're sweating, we're pumped," said Mill, after the senator was done speaking. Mill had driven up from Virginia with Bob Bear, 53. The men of different generations met through Kerry's campaign.

"We're driving to South Carolina next week, and then I'm going to Florida for the general election," said Mill, who is a registered Republican and is about to become a Democrat. "Bush lied to us about this war and our economy and now I'm so optimistic that we can take Bush on."

But before running against President George W. Bush, Kerry still has to win this Democratic nomination. Clearly though, he holds immense momentum.

Not since Ed Muskie in 1972 has a candidate from either party won both Iowa and New Hampshire and not won their party's nomination.

Arriving in the state eight days ago following his surprise victory in Iowa, Kerry wearily took on the front-runner role. But with momentum being the true trophy of the first primary and caucus, the decorated Vietnam veteran will head into the Feb. 3 primaries the decisive Democratic leader.

"Missouri is obviously the focus ahead, that's where we are going to go hardest," said New Hampshire campaign chairman Billy Shaheen, after results showed his candidate had won. "But I think we'll go to South Carolina and all the other seven states as well. We'll use veterans as much as we can in the south."

Carrying 74 national convention delegates, the most among the Feb. 3 primaries, the race in Missouri was thrown wide open after Rep. Richard Gephardt of St. Louis withdrew from the race.

"We want Gephardt's endorsement, but so does everybody," said Shaheen, in a interview. "A month ago we were 32 points down and today we are winning by at least 10, 15 points."

A record 200,000 people voted in the primary, exceeding the previous high in 1992 when about 168,000 Granite Staters took part.

"I make this pledge to you tonight: I have spent my whole life fighting for what I think is right," Kerry said during the speech, one of the best yet of his campaign: "I have only just begun the fight."

Mill and dozens of other supporters replied by chanting: "Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on!" - a deliberate echo of Kerry's defiant response earlier in the week to those who criticize him as a Massachusetts liberal. "If that's the worst they can say about me," said Kerry at the time, "bring it on! Bring it on!"

"If I could have voted here, I would've," said Mill, enjoying the victorious atmosphere in Manchester. "It feels so good to be this age, to be part of this - to have a candidate I believe in."

By David Paul Kuhn

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