'Indecision 2004'

For a state with the motto "Live Free or Die," there's been a shocking lack of freebies in the closing days of the nation's first presidential primaries here.

Rock the Vote, the effort to get young people involved in the political process, was giving away some extremely small servings of a new Ben & Jerry's flavor, Primary Berry Graham, which isn't even a cool name. Put it this way: It's no Cherry Garcia.

I'd about given up on scoring some no-cost souvenirs. And then Jon Stewart came to town over the weekend for a spoofy Comedy Central Town Hall Meeting. More on that in a moment; but let's cut to the news about the giveaways:

  • Colorful "Comedy Central's Indecision 2004" lapel pins.
  • Tins of tasty & practical "Comedy Central's Indecision 2004" breath mints.
  • Useful "Comedy Central's Indecision 2004" ID neck lanyards.
  • An indispensable "Comedy Central's Indecision 2004" laminated "cheat sheet for reporters."

  • The cheat sheet is filled with handy advice for the roiling mass of journalists here for the voting Tuesday. For instance there's a useful guide to "what to call your dubious sources."

    "Sources close to the story" is how you define other reporters who told you stuff.

    For the dispatch you're reading right now, for example, I've used a large number of sources close to the story.

    A "highly placed source," the cheat sheet says, is how we should identify info from Google.

    And an "anonymous source" is the way to refer to a "midnight phone call from Bob Novak."More on Novak.

    "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart's standing room only/invitation only gathering at the Holiday Inn here over the weekend was designed to capture the attention of (and get some free pub from) the major media traveling the election circuit.

    "For too long, members of the media have not had any outlets to express their opinion. Now The Daily Show changes that," says the invite. That's a joke. Get it?

    What followed was a two-hour panel, moderated by Stewart, featuring four white guys and ex-senator, ex-presidential contender Carol Moseley Braun, who seems to be getting much more media attention and television time now that she is not running for anything.

    Readers of this account can pat themselves on the back. Tom Brokaw, in a black turtleneck, told the crowd of about 400 people squeezed into the room that the Internet is the "transformational tool of American politics."

    Feeling transformed yet? If not, then keep reading.

    One of Stewart's graphics showed the jam-packed TV news screen of the future — a modified version of CNN and MSNBC — with a picture, three crawls and an instant messaging feature where viewers can comment on the screen with such constructive remarks as, "This story blowz."

    Incidentally, I wasn't invited to the Stewart event. (Now that blowz.) Even a trip to Kinko's to crudely copy a more important friend's invitation didn't get me into the event. So, I just lied and said that Daily Show political reporter Steve Colbert personally invited me.

    Unbelievably, that got me in — not only for the town meeting but the lavish party afterwards.

    The Stewart effort here offered up hilarious moments interspersed with some serious conversation of what a lousy job mainstream TV does covering politics.

    Talking about Howlin' Howard Dean's speech after his rotten showing in Iowa, Stewart said, "He appeared to go on a 48-hour crystal meth binge." BTW, the politicoscenti's shorthand reference to the Dean outburst is the "I Have a Scream" speech.

    When the Stewart panel's conversation turned to the interview shows and somebody mentioned a Barbara Walters' exclusive with Michael Jackson, Stewart jumped in to comment on that odd couple: "It's hard to tell who's who."

    In the crowd, I saw the Dean campaign's Blogissima, Zephyr Teachout, who was taking notes for the Howard Dean Web site, asking partygoers about prospects for a Jon Stewart presidential campaign.

    Zephyr told me that that IS her real name. "My mother had a sense of humor, I guess." But she wasn't so forthcoming when I told her I'd link her blog to my blog if she'd link my blog to her blog.

    "I can't promise," she said. "I probably will." In other words: Are you kidding?

    Doesn't she know that politics is a game of inclusion? Will someone please let me know if her transformational tool ever links to

    A video of action-packed moments in the presidential contest shown at the Stewart Town Hall gathering featured a couple seconds from one of the 400 or so Democratic presidential candidate debates. I missed this when it happened but the video shows Dean, under attack by one of his rivals, mouthing what appears to be the words, "Get F-----."

    One of the themes of the evening was ridiculing MSNBC's Hardball host Chris Matthews — always an easy target.

    When a cell phone rang, Stewart looked at Matthews in the audience and warned him not to answer it, "Because if you start talking, you'll never f------ stop."

    Long before there was Hardball, The TV Show, there was Hardball, The Book. Matthews wrote it in 1988 and was pushing it with a near marathon of chatter to anyone who would listen during the New Hampshire primary 16 years ago.

    I remember running into him back then in the lobby of the Nashua Crowne Plaza where he was blabbing on and on about his new book, the whole time with his zipper down.

    At the Daily Show's After Party, Matthews ("they love me") wasn't the only huge ego on parade near the buffet table, dominated by a dripping ice sculpture of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" logo.

    Multiple TV pundits wandered around, miffed that they weren't asked to be on the evening's panel which, incidentally, was supposedly off the record and won't be televised on Comedy Central.

    Afterwards, Stewart was drinking Stella Artois from the bottle; the bar was free and stayed open past midnight. And get this: They never ran out of fresh shrimp! I think we all can agree that covering politics is a tough 24/7 job.

    One of the men who was on the panel was MSNBC president Erik Sorenson. Referring to another pundit fandango on that cable station, Stewart asked Sorenson, "Is the capital of 'Scarborough Country' Bull — mania?"

    A little know fact about the political maelstrom is that it can be hazardous to your health. Or at least uncomfortable. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, leading in the polls here, had no hot water in his hotel, the Tage Inn, when he got up Sunday to shower before his long day of campaigning. Nonetheless, Kerry gave me a thumbs up when I asked him how it was going.

    "We have energy," he told me. So that's what an ice cold shower will do for you? No word on the important "shrinkage" issue.

    Earlier, at the Manchester Airport, I spotted Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. She's the straight talking political scientist from the University of Southern California, beloved because, among other things, she returns reporters phone calls right away. She was here in the single digit "frozen hellscape" (that's Jon Stewart again) to punditize for KNBC in Los Angeles.

    Serving as Jeffe's aide de camp is husband Doug who dropped a suitcase on her foot as he was retrieving the luggage. The pundit shook it off and headed for the exit prepared, if necessary, to play hurt.

    There are at least two kinds of "patriotism" on display here. The other one is the passion for the New England Patriots and the manic anticipation of the Super Bowl, which they play next Sunday.

    "All politicians are the same. They all tell you what you want to hear when they're running. I'd rather watch the Pats, " said 28-year-old Mike Harkeem, sitting at The Wild Rover sports bar here. No surprise, the Kerry campaign is trying hard to get Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to endorse its man, preferably before the Tuesday primary. But half time at Super Bowl XXXVIII surrounded by Patriots' cheerleaders, would be fine too.

    Sign spotted on an ice-fishing hut on Lake Winnipesaukee: No, it was not a Kucinich for President. The sign read, "Go Pats."

    On another sports front, candidate John Edwards this weekend learned the hard way not to mess with bowlers on League Night. When he and his busload of press and staff arrived at the lanes in Merrimack there was such an outcry from the regulars who were inconvenienced that the police were called in.

    And that lady on the public address system? Her voice could have peeled a hungry reporter away from a buffet of free fresh shrimp.

    Candidate Kerry spent sporting time over the weekend on the ice, playing hockey with former Bruins legends Ken Hodge and Ray Bourque. Sources close to the story at the JFK Arena here in Manchester---those are Kerry's initial's too---say that the senator showed himself to be a cherry picker, a garbage goal artist in the tradition of Phil Esposito, Kerry's favorite player. That said, he's a damned good skater.

    The last paragraph, today, about John Kerry: In his speeches, he's a populist, blasting away at the Bush Administration's "crony capitalism" and "dollarocracy." But, this is a guy who prepped at St. Paul's in Concord, N.H., and graduated from Yale. His wife, scrapple loving Teresa Heinz Kerry is really, really rich and his younger daughter, Vanessa, is in med school at Harvard. Vanessa is taking a break from Harvard to campaign for her old man and she flew to Italy over the weekend for a friend's wedding. Long story short: Kerry's is not a bootstraps resumé.

    Short story long: Today's report from New Hampshire.

    Your devoted,