- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the celebrity-endorsement primary, John Kerry scored a slap-shot victory yesterday.

No, really. It was a slap shot. A fairly weak one, but a genuine slap shot with a genuine hockey stick in a genuine hockey rink. And a darned good one for a guy who turned 60 last year.

Mr. Kerry, now the comfortable front-runner for the Democratic nomination here, glided down the ice, saw his chance, broke away from the pack and smacked the puck into the net in a scrimmage game at the John F. Kennedy Arena.

The loudspeakers exploded into a thudding beat and the crowd went wild, banging on the bleachers and cheering “Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!” like they do only for hockey stars.

But the real reason people drove from as far away as Boston for Mr. Kerry’s hockey game wasn’t necessarily to see him, but rather to see the Boston Bruins’ hockey legend Ray Bourque, who has endorsed Mr. Kerry for president.

“Now, this is a team,” Mr. Kerry said before the game, wearing a number “04” University of New Hampshire hockey jersey — as in 2004.

Mr. Bourque, along with nine other Bruins greats, are giant celebrities here. Well before the game started, the 1,600-seat hockey stadium was sold out with crowded aisles. Scores of people were turned away at the door.

Other Democrats are trotting their endorsing celebrities around the state, as well.

Erstwhile front-runner Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, has actor Martin Sheen stumping for him today and tomorrow. Mr. Sheen is best known as the compassionate, intellectual Democratic president on NBC’s hit show “The West Wing.”

Actor Ted Danson, who played a has-been bar owner named Sam Malone on the long-running sitcom “Cheers,” campaigned for Wesley Clark in Porstmouth yesterday.

“It’s so nice to be in a state that takes its politics as seriously as you do,” Mr. Danson said. “Which begs the question, why is Sam Malone standing up here?”

The endorsement is not entirely style over substance. “Cheers” was based on a real bar in nearby Boston that has become somewhat of an attraction because of the show.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio touts his “Festival of Peace” in Durham today, featuring several stars, including Tim Reynolds (a “celebrated guitarist”) and Mimi Kennedy (best known as Dharma’s mother on the “Dharma and Greg” sitcom).

One celebrity who doesn’t look like he’ll be campaigning in New Hampshire before Tuesday is New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who will be playing in the Super Bowl next weekend.

Mr. Kerry reportedly has tried bringing Mr. Brady on board to campaign for him in a state that is wild over its Patriots, but was disappointed when Mr. Brady showed up on national television as a featured guest of President Bush at the State of the Union speech last week.

Other stars who aren’t likely to be poached from Mr. Kerry’s camp include Kelly Scott, who was featured on MTV’s “Real World New Orleans.” Ms. Scott and others are traveling the state with Mr. Kerry’s stepson “to deliver Kerry’s message to young New Hampshire voters,” said a press statement.

But the biggest splash was Mr. Kerry’s exhibition hockey game yesterday with Mr. Bourque and other stars from the Boston Bruins, even if the game was a little rigged.

At every faceoff against a professional hockey player, Mr. Kerry won the puck.

Moments before scoring his first of two goals in the game, Mr. Kerry sailed in front of the goal and back-handed the puck directly at the goaltender. The goalie, who played vigorously during the rest of the game, froze and watched the puck drift slowly to a stop — outside the goal. Realizing the puck wouldn’t make it into the net, he smacked it back into play.

“It’s like playing golf with the president,” observed one hockey fan, who said he’d vote for Mr. Kerry anyway.

Rigged or not, the fans loved it.

“I think this is hokey and great theater,” Lori Berry, who drove from Newton, Mass., for the game. “This is much more fun than listening to a speech about someone’s positions on things.”

Mrs. Berry remains undecided in the primary and is determined to vote for a Democrat — just about any Democrat — who is able to beat Mr. Bush. As Mr. Kerry made one final victory lap around the ring (though his team lost 9 to 8) she said she’s seriously thinking about voting for him.

But the stunt also proved that Mr. Kerry is in good health. If he has the stamina to skate for more than an hour, people figured, then he’s got the stamina to beat Mr. Bush.

“This is the race to the finish,” Mr. Kerry said before the game. “There is a lot of work to be done between now and Tuesday evening.”

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