Well, unless pictures show up within the next day of John Kerry in a state of undress in close proximity to a dead girl or a live boy, he’s gonna win New Hampshire. The various tracking polls have him anywhere from 13 to 23 points up, and in every one widening his lead over Howard Dean, not losing it. Two days before the primary, that’s close to bulletproof.
A Kerry win in the Granite State would change the historical calculus I relied on last week in saying “don’t count Dean out” — no candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire and not received his party’s nomination. Pre-vote front-runners like Dean have stumbled in one and recovered, but never both. A New Hampshire win makes Kerry the front-runner and the nominee presumptive — unless and until he does something Deanesque to blow that Dauphin stature.
Dean took my advice: he appeared on Letterman doing (which was pretty daggum funny) a Top 10 list, and also began his debate presentation with a self-deprecating reference to The Yell Round The World. This is why I am not a political consultant in my opinion. The moves didn’t go badly, exactly, they just haven’t drowned out The Yell. Dean looks like he’ll have to settle for a poor second place in New Hampshire, and as long as he’s known to the apolitical public as The Nut Who Lost It In Iowa, he’s toast. For the Vermont governor to rally, Kerry needs to do something equally nutty (hey … those photos) at a time by which everybody but Dean has had to depart.
Perhaps unfortunately for Dean — he’d profit the most from a multi-party open race — Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman, who both decided to skip Iowa and concentrate on New Hampshire, aren’t picking up much, and the former is actually sinking, according to the polls linked to above. Maybe that appeal to the Michael Moore/”Bush is a deserter” bloc didn’t work for Clark. John Edwards is gaining some, but he’s still 10 points or so behind Dean. He’s not exactly skipping New Hampshire (to judge from his ad buys), but is trying to lie in wait to win in South Carolina and make it a Kerry-Edwards contest. It’s a gamble; it’s not a certainty that he wins South Carolina.
WARNING: All of this will be completely nonoperative within one week.
ADDENDUM: Or maybe it lasts less than a week. First of all, there was one factual error. Someone at work told me (and I confirmed it for a story) that in 1972 Democrat Edmund Muskie won both Iowa and New Hampshire, but the Mainer only won the latter by 9 points instead of the jillion points he was supposed to win by. Plus, the lasting image of Muskie in New Hampshire (the only thing *this* political junkie remembers about him certainly, 30 years later) became his breaking out in tears when discussing something or other. Not manly. Not presidential. And as close a precedent to the Dean yell as recent American politics offers. So I was wrong about “never,” but the overall point is unaffected (people who win both Iowa and New Hampshire have a stranglehold on the race.)
Second, there is one tracking poll (Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters) that has Kerry and Dean a statistically insignificant 3 points apart. Given Zogby’s very good track record, that would give one more pause than any other “outlying” poll. Still, robustness and consensus do matter in the very imprecise enterprise of polling. And the other tracking polls I know of (with one exception) have Dean gaining some Monday, but still leaving Kerry firmly ahead. UNH/Fox had Kerry’s lead at 11 points, down from 15 on Sunday; Suffolk/WHDH at 21, *up* from 16; Boston Globe/WBZ at 17, down from 20; American Research Group at 10, down from 18; and CNN-USA Today-Gallup at 11, down from 13. In addition, the new Marist survey (not a tracking poll) has Kerry up on Dean 37-24. So some pollsters will have egg on their face.