Robert Novak

Fresh from his Iowa victory, Kerry?s events here have been risk-free and symbolic, protecting his suddenly acquired New Hampshire lead. The theme at a Friday rally was support from veterans, a key component in winning Iowa. On Saturday afternoon, the gaunt 60-year-old skated with former Boston Bruin stars in a hockey exhibition and even scored a goal. The only mishap in the carefully scripted performance came at the veterans rally when the irrepressible Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, brought in as a Kerry backer, referred to Vice President Dick Cheney as "the Republican Party?s Jesse Jackson." Hollings was hustled back to Washington.

It was a difficult week for Dean, who never was able to adequately explain his rant and roar in Des Moines last Monday night. At Saturday night?s party dinner, he was still trying lame humor. "I?m so excited to be here," Dean said, "that I could just scream. (Pause, amid restrained audience laughter.) But I won?t." New Hampshire is such a good state for the former governor of neighboring Vermont that his slide here has not been as pronounced as his national decline.

Actually, Clark has fallen in New Hampshire much more sharply than Dean, losing half his former strength according to polls. The retired four-star general has been able to ingest and disgorge liberal dogma, displaying skills used in finishing first in his West Point class. He has made himself into an effective stump speaker but commits the amateur orator?s mistake of shouting. With his voice nearly gone, he disappointed a big crowd at Derry Friday night by not taking questions. Considering his dreadful performance at the Thursday debate, Clark?s managers want to avoid impromptu speech.

A retired couple I talked to at Derry were not impressed by the general. Registered independents, they voted for John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary and Al Gore in November. They told me they were first attracted to Dean, then put off by his erratic behavior, and now lean toward Kerry. But they indicated fascination with John Edwards and wanted to see him again before voting Tuesday. Such voters can determine the Southerner?s fate in New Hampshire and shape his future elsewhere.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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