- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

MANCHESTER, N.H. — A day after failing to ground Howard Dean’s high-flying campaign in the final major debate, the Democratic presidential candidates fanned out across New Hampshire yesterday in pursuit of support.

Candidates spent the day slogging through snow to speak to school classrooms, restaurants and any other crowd they could muster hoping to do with voters in person what they weren’t able to do during Tuesday’s debate: outshine Mr. Dean, former governor of neighboring Vermont.

Several campaigns complained that the debate was all about process and politics and not about the real issues that matter to average voters.

“It was a political wonk’s dream,” said New Hampshire radio host Arnie Arnesen. Moderator Ted Koppel of ABC’s “Nightline” “asked every insider’s snarly, in-your-face question we’ve been asking in backrooms for months.”

For example, the following question landed in the lap of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina: “You’re not doing terrific in the polls, either. You do have a lot of money and you came into this race with huge expectations. What’s gone wrong with the campaign?”

Several Democrats noted that had a political maestro such as former President Bill Clinton been on stage, he would have answered every question with his vision of America.

“That’s what it takes to be president,” said one Democrat who worries that no candidate will be able to topple Mr. Dean and worries that Mr. Dean will be unable to beat President Bush.

Polls in New Hampshire and Iowa — home of the nation’s first binding primary and caucus — show Mr. Dean pulling away from the nine-candidate pack. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri still poses a threat to Mr. Dean in Iowa, according to polls, but in the Granite State Mr. Dean appears virtually unbeatable.

Democrats Bill and Judy Macklin watched the debate on television from their home in nearby New Market and are no closer to deciding whom to support in New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary, now nearly six weeks away.

“We have been very disappointed with the field. They have spent more time torpedoing one another rather than settling down and showing their strengths and differences,” said Mr. Macklin, a retired engineer from North Carolina. “The field has got to be culled down and culled down fast.”

Though unable to seriously tackle Mr. Dean during the debate, several candidates came in for late hits after it was over.

“Will the real Howard Dean please stand up,” asked the Rev. Al Sharpton, accusing Mr. Dean of being a closet conservative and releasing a 1995 statement in which he opposed affirmative action based on race.

Mr. Gephardt, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut all released statements criticizing Mr. Dean for his various positions on whether the United States should simply withdraw its troops from Iraq.

The most dramatic political descent has been the campaign of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was the party’s favorite to win the nomination at the start of this year. The Democratic National Committee scheduled next year’s party convention for his hometown of Boston.

But he has steadily dropped in the polls and is shown losing his neighboring state of New Hampshire even if he collects the entire vote of those Democrats still undecided.

“Kerry troubles me,” said Mr. Macklin, echoing the sentiments of many New Hampshire voters who haven’t yet lined up behind any candidate. “I’m not sure where he stands. There’s not a whole lot of passion in the man.”

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