POLITICS: He Came, He Saw.... 



John Kerry is sitting in one of those little captain’s chairs waiting for the TV crew, latest in a series of local press types, to start up what can only be, in the time allotted, a pro forma interview in a small holding room.. “Senator, what does the congressman’s support mean to your campaign?” Kerry, the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination is asked. The “congressman” is, of course, Memphis’ own 9th District U.S. representative, Harold Ford, Kerry’s national campaign co-chair, who has just introduced the Massachusetts senator to a local crowd at the downtown Cadre Club, one that has plainly relished Kerry’s somewhat elongated speech. Eaten it with a spoon, in fact -- point by elaborate exegetical point. Kerry, whose manner in private is agreeably modest these days, responds: “Well, it means a lot. He’s a popular fellow around here. He’s a leader, and he’s one of the most popular, articulate Democrats in the country. So I’m honored to have his support, and I think it’s very helpful to me.” Ooooops! The sound wasn’t working right, the senator is informed. Would he mind repeating what he’d just said after some adjustments? “I don’t mind hearing it again,” Ford quips. “I’m not sure I can say that again,” Kerry quips right back. He could, of course, and did. And, when he was asked how important Memphis, and Tennessee, were to his campaign strategy, he answered simply, “I’m here!” He sure was, and to the overflow crowd of some 1200 -- mainly Democratic partisans, of all shapes and sizes -- that had just heard Kerry, he did just fine. Took President Bush to task for gutting the economy and wrecking the nation’s good name in the world, excoriated "the most inept, reckless, arrogant, ideological foreign policy in American history;" deplored the “Benedict Arnold CEOs” who take their HQs to Bermuda, thereby escaping their proper share of taxation; pledged to strengthen education; and promised to deliver on the late president Harry Truman’s dream of national health care. All that and much, much more -- even commenting on his own operation within the last year for prostate cancer, one that hat left him fully recovered, he said. That Kerry talked at such length (a decided contrast to the rhetorical chip shots of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and the verbal mortar rounds, carefully concentrated, of General Wesley Clark) was received as an enormous compliment by the Memphis audience, conscious that they were listening to an all-but-certain Democratic nominee and a very likely president. It was like getting their own State-of-the-Union address. Afterward, though, many in the crowd -- even some of those who were most impressed -- wondered out loud if it was really necessary for Kerry to have talked so doggone long. The consensus was that he was maybe fifteen minutes over what would have been a good length -- one reason for the overrun being that he had, in the free flow of his talking points, somehow missed bringing his peroration around to the his usual concluding challenge for President Bush: “...three words I know he’ll understand: “Bring it on!” Instead Kerry finished with a promise, once elected, to be able to say, a propos his own foreign and domestic goals, “Mission accomplished!” And the crowd, not to be denied, supplied the “Bring it on!” for him. It was a night that local Democrats will long remember if Kerry goes on to be elected president. One of his rivals, General Clark, had declared that very afternoon, at B.B. King’s on Beale, that whoever won Memphis would win Tennessee, and whoever won Tennessee would win the nomination. By that standard, Kerry had to be optimistic. His turnout was larger by far than those garnered in the last several days locally by the undeniably hard-working Clark and Edwards. Clark had generous support, it was obvious, from members of Mayor Willie Herenton’s local organization, as well as from City Councilman Rickey Peete, Clark's primary host at B.B.’s on Monday. Edwards had the backing of a decent-sized core group, heavy with lawyers and other admirers, like the local Democratic chairman, state Repo. Kathryn Bowers. And Howard Dean, the absent ex-frontrunner, still had loyalists around here and there. But Kerry now seemed to have everybody else. With the still formidable Ford organization in the van. And, given what everybody sensed was a new vulnerability on the part of President Bush, who had arguably created more questions than he’d answered in a weekend appearance on Meet the Press, there was a general headiness in Democratic ranks. And a determination, it seemed, to have done with the contest even while only a distinctly modest fraction of Democratic delegates had yet been committed in primary states. The Zogby poll, which had Kerry at 45 percent of the projected Tennessee primary vote, was on everybody’s lips. Given the bandwagon effect, that could go higher. Not that there wasn’t a little surviving skepticism. There was, for example, local Democrat Steve Steffens, not one of Monday night’s celebrants. Steffens maintains an email network of local Democrats. Quoth Steffens to his network Monday night anent the general euophoria in party ranks: “I hate to be the crank who tosses the proverbial turd in the punchbowl, but, haven't we been here before? It was roughly 4 weeks ago when my guy Howard Dean had all but been anointed as the Democratic nominee.... [W]hat do we do, good Democrats, if we anoint the good Senator Kerry and he turns out to have his own as-yet-unknown problems? How will he respond to the evil magic yet to be wrought by W's Merlin, Karl Rove? What if he indeed turns out to be the second coming of Ed Muskie, as I have feared?” As of this week in Memphis, and in Tennessee at large, that seemed to be a minority opinion, though.


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