New Hampshire Secondary

In which our man Durst pauses for a breath after the Granite State vote, which surprised many and meant nothing.

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And now let’s bid a fond farewell to New Hampshire, where the media residue is being hosed down as we speak. The men in the contamination suits are getting their second wind and work reportedly will be finished in time for the 2004 primary. The big-time pundits are all riled up about the big-time upset, you know, John McCain crushing the Bushmeister like an obese Hippopotamus stomping on an overripe avocado.

But hey, let’s be honest: New Hampshire is just downright contrary. If McCain had been the frontrunner, it’d be George W. celebrating in this quadrennial exercise in electoral monkeywrenching. Why? I don’t know — I guess you’d be ornery too if you lived up there.

The Granite Staters phoned in a wake-up call to George II that would have made Pete Townsend flinch. He then likened New Hampshire to a speed bump in the road on the way to the White House. Yeah, uh huh. The French could have used speed bumps like this to bolster the Maginot Line. If Kruschev had erected such a speed bump, East and West Germany would still be separated.

He came in second the same way a Yugo comes in second in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler. A bit of a bad move, old man. I mean, the trotting out of your father, George I, along with the Queen Mother and a portable mural of Ronald Reagan emphasized precisely why you think you should be President. Because you’re next in line, dammit. It’s the new “L” word: legacy. Meanwhile Jeb and Neil lurked ominously behind the ropeline with a lean and hungry look.

Bush was just one of the major thuds heard round the networks. Another was Ted Koppel accidentally bumping his hair on the Nightline set, and another was Gary Bauer falling off the White House ladder and hitting the bottom of the GOP dumpster. Of course it was only one rung, but he is a little guy. Only got one percent more of the vote than you and I, and you weren’t even there. He actually owes two delegates and has to come back for 30 days and wear an orange vest and shovel snow. Then it’s back to the Lollipop Guild. Maybe he can take Alan Keyes with him. A man who is to religious tolerance what golf-ball-sized hail is to half-time shows.

And speaking of freakish frozen meteorites, for all the money Malcolm “Steve” Forbes spent, he managed to climb from 12 percent in the 1996 primary to 13 percent this time around in New Hampshire’s ugly beauty contest. At this rate, he’ll pop up with 50 percent in the year 2148. And that’s at $400 a vote. The cost of a halfway decent sofa-bed. Rumor has it he’s getting his invisible strings recalibrated and is receiving new orders from the alien space-lizard boss.

At his victory celebration John McCain unveiled a new campaign theme: “I will tell you the truth no matter what.” Telling the truth to voters: I guess one near-death experience wasn’t enough for this guy. He must be one of those adrenaline junkies we hear so much about. You watch: If he loses, he’s going to jog naked through the South Bronx with $100 bills duct-taped to his chest. Either that, or switch to the Reform Party. Besides, he’s an intelligent, honorable, compassionate man — obviously not Presidential material.

On the other end of the court, Bill Bradley discovered what aides had been embroidering in his underwear for months; negative campaigning actually works. “Dollar” Bill hurtled through the state like a neophyte religious convert, pausing only long enough to monotonously eulogize the Vice President with a chant of “Liar liar, pants on fire!” to stunned passerbys.

Meanwhile, Al Gore in his new disguise as Prince Albert the Cougar-Hearted shrunk his talking points to those of a trained parrot stapled to Don King’s shoulder: “Fight, fight, fight. Fighting. Fighting for you. Fighting for us all. Going to fight.” Al Gore as Brad Pitt in “Fight Club.” Perfect analogy — in the movie, Brad Pitt doesn’t exist.

So, now the race leaves its handshaking, coffee-sipping, snowball-throwing, marathon-town-halling phase for the anonymous wasteland of tarmac interviews and TV ads. The Democrats have until March 7 to fine-tune their message, when the heavyweights California and New York will harrumph onto the scene with their eclipsing shadows.

Meanwhile, the Republicans move on to Delaware and Arizona, as well as South Carolina — a state of which I’m not sure John McCain’s maverick message is going to go down as well. After all, their senior Senator is Strom Thurmond. A man who’s seen a lot of changes in his career. And he voted against every one of them.

Will Durst is host of “The Citizen Durst Report” on PBS and has a round head. He is covering election 2000 for the MoJo Wire.

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