Some Kerry aides simply call it campaign hell -- these final days of the campaign that never seen to begin or end, but simply pause for a few quick hours of nervous shut eye. For John F. Kerry and his entourage, who arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., after 10 p.m. Sunday, the day started at, well, a few hours later with an e-mail from Joe Lockhart, Kerry's sleepless spinner, at 1:29 a.m.
The New York Times, which post most of its stories online at or before midnight, was reporting President Bush had failed to secure 380 tones of high-grade bomb-making material in the post-Iraq war confusion. Explosive stuff, literally and politically. In his typical understated fashion, Lockhart called it "the most grave and catastrophic mistake in a tragic series of blunders."
And in a classic example of a story-becomes-a-soundbite, Kerry rearranged his first public speech of the day here in nearby Dover to slam the president for what Richard A. Gephardt would call another "miserable failure" by Bush.
Kerry's verbal attack made Lockhart's comment sound wimpy. He called Bush stubborn, arrogant, incompetent and a threat to U.S. Security -- and that was just for starters.
So much for Kerry's plan to strike a more positive and upbeat tone this week.
This assured Team Kerry of dominating the issue of the morning news cycle (which is usually forgotten by nighttime).
Sure enough, before Kerry spoke, the Associated Press was up and running with a story of the latest Kerry attack. Afterwards, the news wires were burning up with Kerry's offensive. Mission accomplished.
Before whacking Bush here, Kerry shared the stage with a New Hampshire woman who has had 17 operations and big-time employments problems. This is pretty much standard fare for a Kerry event: put a local face on the national message of economic despair. When the woman lamented Bush's focus on retraining the workforce of the future, the crowd busted out a new chant -- "retrain Bush, retrain Bush!" Then U-2's "Beautiful Day" roared as Kerry took over and lit into the president.
Of course, it's probably only a matter of time (a few hours to be precise), before Bill Clinton will do what Bill Clinton is best at: overshadowing everyone else in his party, including the could-be-president of the United States. In a return reminiscent of Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling the night before, Clinton will return from the disabled list to light a fire in Philly that Democrats hope will spread to every corner of America and stoke Jewish voters and African Americans in particular to vote for Kerry.
Democrats crossed their fingers that undecided independent voters -- including the deeply religious Kerry courted a day earlier in Florida -- would not be turned off by a president known as much for sexual relations with an intern as salving relations in the Middle East.
In an early morning interview, Clinton showed less optimism than Team Kerry about the prospects of a Bush loss next week. "I think this is really one of the most difficult elections to call in my lifetime."
Note to Clinton: you're off message because Bob Shrum is predicting a 300 electoral vote grab for Kerry.