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But that may just be an excuse for people looking to explain their defection. There's a weird metaphysical link between seeming electable and seeming presidential. Bill Clinton played his sax and talked about his underwear and managed to win twice. George W. Bush had the genes of a President but not the resume and yet made it to the White House and spent more than a year as one of the more popular modern Presidents. To many Dean supporters that Iowa moment actually reminded them of why they liked him. "This is a passionate person who's really excited, who gets supporters excited," said Kristin Ruthenberg, 34, a church organist who brought the son she homeschools to see the Governor in Claremont. "I saw someone who's tenacious, who's going to hold on to the dream."
In fact, the issue of style and temperament has everything to do with how Dean earned his front-runner position in the first place. He was the first to correctly read the Democratic electorate and channel its anger--not just at President Bush but at the Democrats in Washington who were still playing nice with a President who was playing for keeps. But this meant he could least afford to make a mistake. Once the conventional wisdom challenged his electability, the rationale for his candidacy started to crumble, and voters went searching elsewhere. "Six months ago, they were all looking for straight talk," said Joe Lieberman pollster Mark Penn. "Now they're looking for someone who is serious enough to be President of the U.S."
Dean's string of gaffes in the closing weeks before Iowa gave Kerry and Edwards their opening, but his detonation Monday night blew the race open. After voters had started to wonder about his self-control, the last thing Dean could afford was to lose it. And so, following the time-honored rituals of campaign damage control, by Tuesday his staff was looking to perform an extreme makeover, no easy feat for a candidate who is selling authenticity. He pulled down his attack ads, rolled out his wife as a softening agent and assumed a new and humble tone: to his mantra "You have the power," he added "I need your help." Hoarse from a cold, he planted his feet on the stage of the peach-and-cream Claremont Opera House with his hands in his pockets and an all but visible leash, to make sure he did not jab and roam and punch too hard. He cut his stump speech almost in half so he could take more questions, show more leg. And he started talking about his warts so much that even some of his Deanie babies asked him to quit it.
Kerry was the clear beneficiary of all Dean's bad press. In New Hampshire, familiarity with Kerry once bred indifference, if not contempt. Suddenly, it brought comfort. Even when Kerry was doing badly, says Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy, "he always had great favorability ratings. They were always better than Dean's. He just never really connected until the end. He shed some aloofness, and he started answering questions, and he started to listen. He just got better." His height and bearing and senatorial stature make it easy to imagine him wearing White House cufflinks on his Turnbull & Asser shirts. And in the end he was a safe haven for spooked Dean voters who had had a near-death experience. "It was a process of elimination," says a rival campaign manager.
WHOM DO YOU LIKE?