THE PUBLICIST: Winter chill cannot prevent Clark from putting on a hot show in NH

Drew Barrymore is on our bus. Dan Rather joins us at a coffee-shop stop. Filling every seat and loaded down with absurd amounts of sophisticated electronic gear, the horde of bundled-up reporters (it's two degrees outside) look more like arctic trekkers than a campaign press corps.

Drew Barrymore is on our bus. Dan Rather joins us at a coffee-shop stop. Filling every seat and loaded down with absurd amounts of sophisticated electronic gear, the horde of bundled-up reporters (it's two degrees outside) look more like arctic trekkers than a campaign press corps.

We're aboard Wes Clark's media caravan the day before the New Hampshire primary. In an 18-hour span, we'll hit all 10 counties in the state for last-minute politicking en route to Dixville Notch - a tiny northern town with more moose than people, where the state's first ballots will be cast at 12:01am. It's a microcosm of mom-and-pop America: diners, country stores, and town halls. On the bus between stops, I chat with reporters from the LA Times, The New York Times, and several broadcast outlets, gleaning insights into the art of political spin. Most of the journos are pretty cool, although a few are so whiny I would have dumped them at the next corner had it been my junket. As the long day wears on, some file stories, others nap, a few watch mini TVs, which, inexplicably, show only film trailers. One of Clark's staffers tells me the visit to Dixville Notch is a big roll of the PR dice. No candidate has ever showed up for that vote, and if Clark fares poorly, the egg on his face will be visible before dozens of cameras and reporters. It's a harrowing drive through dark winding roads to get to Dixville, and we arrive at the polling place - inside the beautiful Balsam Hotel - shortly before midnight. It's festive, with locals in evening wear and excited press milling about. The Clark team's brilliant gamble pays off as he wins the small but vital Dixville vote, thereby grabbing the next day's headlines, ending his slide in the polls, and propelling him into a statewide third-place finish behind New England homeboys Kerry and Dean. Back in Manchester that night, a CNN PR fiasco unfolded in front of the hot-spot Merrimack restaurant, where right-wing pundits Bob Novak and Tucker Carlson were roundly heckled after appearing on Crossfire. The flustered Novak shoved a veteran who called him a "traitor" (for printing a CIA operative's name), while onlookers ridiculed Carlson for going outside without a hat - an offense he'd mocked a Democratic candidate for committing earlier that day. George Stephanopoulos told me, "I haven't seen this kind of intensity and heightened emotions before in New Hampshire." Spinsters, start your engines.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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