The dame’s hips were a liberal’s dream: small on the top, a robust middle class, and a popular base of support. She dropped into the armchair across from my desk. I poured her a shot of Jack Daniels. (After Iowa, the Gephardt boys had gone a little wild, and broke all my bottles of Scotch.)
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.
The bell curve of her lower lip shook. “He’s dead.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Another plane crash?”
“I mean, his campaign.”
“Dead? Says who?”
“The news, the blogs … everyone. Their new campaign manager says they can keep going, even if they don’t win any states on Tuesday. But when I tell my friends that, they laugh at me and…” She downed the whiskey and choked back tears.
“Let me guess. They say something about Kool-Aid and dot-com bubbles, right?”
“Is it true? Am I crazy to hope?” Her lips left a mark on the tumbler, red as the 2003 Federal budget.
“Politics is a crazy business, sweetheart. Most of the national tracking polls, there’s a four-way statistical tie for second: Dean, Edwards, Clark, and Undecided. If Dean is a busted dot-com bubble, then Edwards is a factory on its way to China, and Clark is pinned down in his trench by enemy fire from all sides.”
“So that’s it? Two states have voted, and Senator Kerry’s big hair is going to lead the Democrats in November?”
I poured myself another glass. “Hard to say, sweetheart. On the one hand, Clinton skipped Iowa and lost New Hampshire in ’92, and he went on to be nominated. On the other hand, Clinton had a lot more time between New Hampshire and the next primary to connect with the voters and overcome his bad press. Your man’s only had a week.”
“Why is it different this year?”
“The Party decided to compress the schedule two years ago. They wanted to shut down the circular firing squad and pick a nominee as soon as possible, voters or not. Kennedy challenging Carter in ’76, Hart beating on Mondale in ’84—from Terry McAuliffe’s point of view, those guys were doing the Republicans’ job, making the front-runners defend themselves against someone in their own party instead of beating the drum against the Republicans.”
“But you said yourself, it took the voters a while to warm up to Clinton in the primaries, and he won two terms. And if the circular firing squad is such a bad thing, what have all the candidates been doing for the past year and a half?”
I refilled her glass. It was the best answer I could come up with.