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Hear It Now: The Dean Difference in New Hampshire

     Here‘s what you might have seen and heard in Manchester, New Hampshire on Wednesday evening if you’d drifted onto the presidential campaign trail with Dave Winer and me.   I pass it along in three long sound bites, with a minimum of filtration by me. It was chance that the hot house-party on our first day on the trail was Howard Dean’s.  I’ll be back to sample all the other campaigns that look interesting.  My mission is to pass the experience along in audio files with a “you are there” feeling from one of the venerable rituals of New Hampshire primary politics: the very informal at-home gathering with friends and neighbors.  First, there is Dean’s 24-minute talk to about 250 admirers (and a few curiosity seekers) in the back yard of Kathleen Kelly, who happens to be a member of the school board in New Hampshire’s little big city, Manchester.  Second, there’s another 20 minutes or more of Q & A with the candidate.  And third, there is my own open-ended sampling of the crowd: why had they come, and how did they account for all the attention Howard Dean has been getting?  I heard less of the cranky-Yankee “ay-yuh” New Hampshire accent in this crowd than I expected, but the spirit and variety of New Hampshire Democrats is all here, I think, so tune right in and make of it what you will. 

     It’s hardly news that the best opportunities to listen in on presidential candidates and campaigns come in the year before the race.  But it’s striking that the essential simplicity and openness of the quaint old New Hampshire house-party tradition has changed so little since I covered George McGovern in New Hampshire for the New York Times 32 summers ago.  Dave Winer and I were welcomed without credentials, like folks from around the corner.  Dave said Jeff Greenfield was there for CNN, but I didn’t see him.  In Kathy Kelly’s backyard, nobody got celebrity treatment–not even Howard Dean.  The most striking thing about the candidate, in my observation, was his thriving, entirely unburdened air.  This is a man who’s collected in his mind, comfortable in his skin, and happy in his work.  My last vaguely cautionary note about the politics of this particular crowd is that public-school teachers were doubtless over-represented in Kathy Kelly’s circle.  So be prepared for some acidly anti-Bush views from an articulate, well-organized slice of public-sector Democrats.  This is real, unrehearsed vox pop at a Dean event–but a far cry from a random scientific sample of New Hampshire opinion.  Hear it now: One: Dean.  Two: Q & A.  Three: Who’s here?

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