NASHUA, N.H. -- For three years, the ubiquitous red and blue map of 2000 (red for Republican states; blue for Democratic ones) has been the political landscape. However, a more interesting and complex color code is emerging in this election. Blue and gray may become very important factors in deciding who gets the Democratic Party's nomination, with camouflage green dominating the background.
The elements of this new color chart emerged from the past week's campaigning in New Hampshire. Ex-Vermont governor Howard Dean began a campaign built on a passionate opposition to the go-it-alone invasion of Iraq. In New Hampshire, his message changed to themes conveying the solid values of frugality, balanced budgets, and concern for the loss of community. Dean appears to be the embodiment of old-fashioned Yankee pragmatism and idealism. In a state where people prefer to live free or die, it plays well. Color him Yankee blue.
Massachusetts senator John Kerry is formal and less approachable; however, when he affectionately hugged fellow Vietnam veteran and former Georgia congressman Max Cleland, he evinced surprising compassion. Throughout last week, war hero Kerry directly challenged George W. Bush on national-security issues and the Iraq war by using the mantra "Bring It On," in parody of Bush's deadly bravado toward both issues. Like Dean, Kerry tells stories and lays out plans without much reference to geography or personal religious beliefs. Put this veteran in camouflage green.
In states north of the Mason-Dixon Line, stories of regional geography, family history, and religious faith are considered somewhat inappropriate for those campaigning for elected office. In the South, things are glaringly different. Southerners have a primal desire for personal narratives from politicians. Perhaps the history of storytelling and religious testimony makes it requisite for candidates to share upbringings, heritage, transgressions, and conversions. Only time will tell whether Governor Dean and Senator Kerry can resonate with Southern voters without the benefit of such touchstones.
It won't be so with General Wesley Clark. On the stump this past week, Arkansan Clark punctuated his themes of patriotism, faith, family values, and leadership not only with nostalgic stories of childhood but with a Cook's tour of his religious history and church affiliations. While he gave due attention to the issues of Iraq, jobs, health-care, and the environment, the substance of his rousing speeches was overshadowed by matters of style and personality. Soldierly green is a striking background for Clark's distinguished shade of gray.
Although Senator John Edwards lacks military experience, he exudes understanding and concern for the plight of the common man -- the underdog. Waxing nostalgic, this son of a small-town mill worker bashed Bush for dividing the country into two Americas -- every speech a reminder that his honeyed North Carolina drawl can garner votes in the South. Color him in down-home colors, y'all.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Yankee raised by Russian immigrant parents, talked openly about his values and Orthodox-Jewish beliefs. He defended the Iraq war and mixed talk of deficit reduction and small-business tax incentives with references to his reputation as the "soul" of the Democratic Party. The genial Lieberman could prove to have a chameleon-like appeal.
The last time Democrats in New Hampshire went to the polls, Al Gore, son of the South and a Vietnam veteran, narrowly defeated Bill Bradley, a Northerner who did not serve in the military. Even back then, the color palette was somewhat mixed. But this year, Democrats are more busily scrambling to find a color code that can paint George W. Bush out of the White House.
Cheri DelBrocco, who writes a weekly column for the Flyer Web site, was in New Hampshire for the Democratic primary.