Volume 12, Issue 5 ~ January 29-February 4, 2004

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Cold Weather Is Time to Get Close — to the Candidates

In Maryland, we’ve been feeling ripples of the great democratic tide that runs through the country every fourth winter. To see where the waves rose, we traveled to New Hampshire last weekend.

Up in the cold-as-granite state, we hopped to six events in 48 hours, catching up with six presidential hopefuls, some as many as three times. The six are all Democrats, and all of them want to give President George W. Bush, as Howard Dean puts it, “a one-way ticket back to Crawford, Texas.”

But the democratic tide we’re talking about is a nonpartisan phenomenon, spelled with a lower case d. It sweeps up both Republicans and Democrats alike, and in earlier years it’s been Republicans who’ve drawn us to New Hampshire where, in 1996, we tracked Sen. Bob Dole from school to church to fire hall.

Robbed of the use of his right arm in World War II, Dole kept a pen gripped in that fist and shook hands with his left. This year, it’s Democrats who lean into the crowds to shake hands and hug babies. Republicans hold the White House, and — though one certainly could — no serious GOP candidates want to challenge the president of their party.

But plenty of Democrats do, and all but one of the seven who escaped elimination a week earlier in Iowa’s caucuses devoted the past week to convincing New Hampshire’s voters he was the man to write that one-way ticket to ride.

Like us, observers and partisans by the thousands flock to New Hampshire to join voters in judging the candidates. You can get that close this time of year when politics is, as the pundits say, retail. You can look them in the eye, measure their grip and stature, hear their ideas, judge their actions and reactions and ask them questions.

But you can only vote this week if you live in New Hampshire, where 39 percent who took part in the Democratic primary cast their votes for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, won 26 percent, followed by retired Gen. Wesley Clark with 13 percent, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with 12 percent, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Leiberman with nine percent and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich with one percent.

Now, the tide has shifted south and west, to Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina and Oklahoma, where the next wave of primaries sweeps through February 3. Come March 2, Maryland will join a batch of states holding their primaries on Super Tuesday, the closest to a national primary the nation has ever experienced. By March 4, the Democrats will likely have a candidate.

Soon, politics turns wholesale, and the campaign will be reduced to tarmac drop-downs and televised images. Now’s the time to get close enough to see if any of these wannabes deserve your vote and the right to hand the president that one-way ticket back to Texas.



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Last updated January 29, 2004 @ 3:15am.