MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The young grunts at ex-Vermont governor Howard Dean's New Hampshire H.Q. had been hopeful all day Tuesday, as an apparent upsurge in some of the polls had their man catching up or even surpassing his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator John Kerry.
But they would end up with reason to scream, not celebrate. Kerry finished with a solid double-digit lead in the nation's first presidential preference primary.
Meanwhile, Dean, along with third-place finishers Wesley Clark and Senator John Edwards, were technically still in the game with Southern primaries yet to come. But Round Two was over.
Most candidate events in these last several days of the New Hampshire campaign were first-come, first-served, standing-room-only affairs. And head counts meant something. A case in point was Joe Lieberman, a forgotten man in most horse-race coverage from New Hampshire until the very end, when polls began to show him competitive with Clark and Edwards for potential third-place honors.
Even before then, however, the Connecticut senator was filling up venues like that of the Puritan Backroom Restaurant in Manchester Saturday night, where the members of an overflow crowd availed themselves of both the avuncular Lieberman's "mainstream" platitudes and the opportunity to put together their own ice-cream sundaes -- either chocolate or vanilla -- from makings that were lavishly spread across a table on one wall. Demand was great enough that neither the candidate nor the goodies underwent a meltdown.
It was otherwise for Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich -- the most gnomic and wonkish of the Democratic hopefuls by far, and the least attended. Kucinich, whose persistence in speaking of his forthcoming "administration" at debates and personal appearances began to seem outlandishly anomalous, was unable on Monday even to fill up every seat at a Merrimack health-foods restaurant that was only slightly larger than an old-fashioned phone booth. He focused there on his early opposition to the war in Iraq and his insistence -- singular among the candidates -- on getting the troops out of there now.
Kucinich has also advocated the most far-reaching -- and expensive -- domestic programs, including one that would provide Americans with universal comprehensive health-care through a single-payer, Canadian-style system. Reminded at the restaurant that voters had forced the onetime boy mayor of Cleveland to undergo a recall election in the '80s because of charges that he had emptied the city's coffers, Kucinich blanched a little before distinguishing between that circumstance and the grimmer one of impeachment. "I always thought I was an unimpeachable source," he jested gamely.
The fact that until then Kucinich had not been so challenged in public was a testament to his lack of viability. Any candidate who looked to have real chances of winning was sure to get whacked by somebody somehow. The most graphic example was the revival of a struggle between Dean and Kerry.
Though a chastened Dean had cooled his rhetoric in the several days following his defeat in the Iowa caucuses a week earlier, he had found new vigor, new hope, and -- most importantly -- new rhetoric as evidence of a rebound began to materialize in late New Hampshire polls.
"Where was John Kerry when George Bush was putting out all that misinformation about Iraq?" Dean asked a turn-away throng of plainly rejuvenated supporters at a Nashua breakfast rally on Monday.
Noting that Kerry had voted against the 1991 Gulf War, "when Iraqi troops had occupied Kuwait and set environmentally devastating oil fires," but had voted in 2002 to authorize military action by President Bush, Dean said he would have taken opposite positions in both cases. "Foreign policy requires both patience and judgment," said Dean. "I question Senator Kerry's judgment."
At that Nashua affair, Dean had served notice that he was tired of apologizing for the Scream, at one point turning his hand-mike outward and letting his followers do their own prolonged, deafening version of it. If he is able to remain viable through succeeding primaries (and he seemingly has the money to do so), Dean may actually manage to transform his overheated cry into an accepted call to arms.
Kerry, who while playing catch-up had made a point of blistering erstwhile frontrunner Dean in several weeks' worth of debates, would somewhat disingenuously respond to Dean's criticism by accusing his fellow New Englander of "angrily tearing down his opponents."
Even as the New Hampshire weather was itself turning icy-cold, the renewed combat between the two was a chilling reminder that the high-stakes battle for the Democratic nomination was still on.
In the days after his out-of-nowhere Iowa victory rescued what had been a floundering candidacy, Kerry had regained the presumptive-nominee status he'd started with more than a year ago, and he had toured New Hampshire during this last week like a president-in-waiting -- appearing before large crowds and making solemn addresses aimed at the fall contest with George W. Bush. "Bring it on!" he concluded each speech, to resounding applause.
On his travels through the Granite State, Kerry was accompanied by an ever-swelling entourage. When he spoke to a crowd at Nashua South High School on Sunday, senatorial icon Ted Kennedy of neighboring Massachusetts was on board, as was the senator's son Patrick Kennedy, a congressman from Rhode Island, and Kerry's South African-born wife Theresa and Vietnam colleague-at-arms Jim Rasmussen, and, conspicuously of late, Memphis' 9th District congressman Harold Ford, who drew high-decibel cheers when introduced.
Ford, a national co-chair for the Kerry campaign and an early supporter, had also been at the candidate's side during Saturday night's statewide New Hampshire Democratic fund-raiser in Nashua, at which all the remaining presidential hopefuls (save the suddenly absent Al Sharpton) had spoken to an S.R.O. crowd of some 17,000 party faithful. Described from the dais as a future president, Ford was one of the few African Americans on the scene in New Hampshire, a state with a 96 percent white population.
Another black congressman, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, was on hand for Clark, the Arkansan and former NATO commander, who has developed into something of a barn-burner on the stump but whose debate performances have left something to be desired and were a major reason for his falling poll ratings in New Hampshire.
Even so, both Clark, who has a strong following in several Southern states (including Tennessee, where much of the party establishment favors him), and Edwards, who will likely win next week's South Carolina primary, have to be reckoned with in the South, a clime in which either Kerry or Dean will be contending against a regional tradition that has been unfriendly in recent years to Northeastern Democrats seeking the presidency.