KERRY PULLS "A FAST ONE" BY SITTING DOWN
NASHUA, N.H. -- John Kerry attracts attention in New Hampshire these days whenever he stands up. He also attracts attention when he sits down, as he did following his remarks, as the last speaker among the presidential candidates, to Saturday nights Club 100 fundraising dinner of the New Hampshire Democrats at Nashua.
In the process, he rubbed some people the wrong way, including Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, the Senate independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who supports the presidential candidacy of former Vermont governor Howard Dean.. Presumably, Dean wasnt exactly gratified, either -- though, in the wake of his now famous I Have a Scream speech in Iowa, he is keeping certain kinds of emotions to himself.
It happened this way: As the evening progressed, ach of the presidential candidates had entered the hall from the rear, mounted the podium from a central aisle, and then departed the Tara Sheratons main ballroom at stage right (stage left
from the audiences perspective). Depending on the size of the candidates claque or the intensity of his preparation, he could be virtually submerged in a sea of people during the course of the going or coming. (Poor Joe Lieberman was visible most of the way in both directions.)
Uniquely in the case of Kerry, who had been slated for an earlier time at the podium but mysteriously got shuffled to the end of the pack, there was no going. As the climactic speaker, he finished to tumultuous applause from his supporters in the room (disproportionate, since -- like parents at a dance recital -- backers of some of the others had leaked out once their guy had done his thing). Then, instead of heading stage right and out of the room, Kerry lingered at the foot of the podium. And lingered., And lingered. Then sat down.
Seated there next to Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, with his entourage -- including Memphis congressman Harold Ford -- hovering nearby, Kerry became the elephant in the room. The program lumbered to its end amid the usual final hitches, late recognitions, and meandering concluding remarks from the podium, and Kerry continued to sit.
Ford, a national co-chair for Kerry, was recognized from the dais as a future president, and Kerry, wearing a Buddhas beaming grin, sat. Bill Shaheen, husband of New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen and chairman of Kerrys New Hampshire campaign, received a special award, and Kerry, his head of bushy white hair standing out like a tall upended mop, sat.
This is not right, a portly man near the podium, clearly a supporter of one of the other candidates, began to grouse to members of the press who had gathered at the ready to photograph or question Kerry perfunctorily during the exit that never happened. Meanwhile Kerry got more camera attention just by sitting there.
Afterward Jeffords, in the course of reaffirming his support for the now beleagured Dean, observed, Kerry pulled a stunt there. Maybe I shouldnt say this, but Kerry pulled a fast one by staying behind like that. He wasnt supposed to.
Jeffords declined to speculate on why the order of speakers had been shuffled by state party officials. As did Dean, who had been moved from some point further back to second in line, just behind Cleveland congressman Dennis Kucinich, whose remarks had opened the series of candidate appearances.
I just do what they tell me, shrugged erstwhile frontrunner Dean, who gave the appearance of being more than a little hamstrung after the various embarrassments hed suffered in Iowa. He began his remarks Saturday night with a wan joke: "I'm so excited to be here that I could scream [pause] -- but I won't
Dean is campaigning in New Hampshire in full coat and tie, a decided contrast to his trademark former image of a firebrand with his shirt sleeves rolled to the elbow. That was always a somewhat calculated presentation, since Dean would carefully doff his coat and roll his sleeves up only as he prepared to stump, fastidiously rolling the sleeves back down and returning to full-dress mode as soon as an appearance was over and he was settled back in his transport vehicle.
After Iowa, Dean may be stuck with that more restrained image for a while. Like the Pablo character in Hemingways For Whom the Bell Tolls, the candidate seems to be saying, I no provoke. Deans legion of supporters give every sign of understanding that, but, depending on the results of Tuesdays New Hampshire primary, they -- and he -- cant be expected to sit still forever.
Or to stand for it when Kerry does.
Dean with Jeffords at Democrats' dinner
Kerry with Ford at the gala