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wThursday, May 08, 2003

TAP: Test Run.
Meanwhile, Dean's most important target is Kerry, and Kerry's greatest threat is Dean. The battle for New Hampshire spilled over into South Carolina. Dean came off terribly during this debate. Though his tussles with the other candidates seem to be driven more by strategy than any predisposition toward belligerence, if Dean can't figure out how to play nicer he's going to alienate more people than just the other campaigns' staffers. No candidate unable to gracefully parry a direct and personal attack will be able to beat Bush in 2004.

That said, it was interesting to watch Dean in South Carolina. One of the shorter candidates, Dean somehow managed to appear exactly the right height to look every person he met in the eye. He was willing to engage almost anyone in a real discussion about real issues. Over the weekend, he was spontaneous and garrulous and seemed to really love campaigning. When he crossed paths with fish-fry attendee Joan Trezevant during a walk-through with supporters, she was dancing and he was just some politician in her way. So she asked him to dance, and then and there they did the shag, the South Carolina state dance. Let me be the first to report that the former governor of Vermont dances beautifully. Said a clearly thrilled Trezevant afterward, "He has the moves."

Nor is Dean afraid to take his campaign to venues that wouldn't, at first blush, seem to be his natural base, such as the South Carolina Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) Saturday lunch. "In the South, Republicans always make sure that race is an issue," Dean told the assembled. "We're going to talk about race. I'm going to talk to southern whites who've been voting Republican since 1968. The way we win the South is that . . . we talk to white southern voters about the issues we care about as Democrats, because they're their issues, too." In his Saturday afternoon speech at the convention, he extended those remarks: We have "to talk to folks who haven't voted for us in 30 years and ask them, 'You've been voting for Republicans for 30 years. What do you have to show for it?'" At the same time, "We have an obligation to the African American base not to ignore them. . . . We are going to make sure that our base does not feel neglected."

The message played surprisingly well with the DLC crowd. "I think that's a very brave statement he's making," said Ed Craig, a businessman who heard Dean at the lunch. "The issues in this state are graphically racial. This is a racially divided population. It's something we need to confess to and we need to stop." Mike Hawkins, an insurance agent from Prosperity, S.C., described himself as "surprised and pleased with what [Dean] had to say." "He works for me," Hawkins said. "Is it going to work in the South? I hope so."

posted by Matthew Carroll-Schmidt at 3:00 PM

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