Always the contrarian, Paul E. Tsongas, the titular Democratic front-runner on the strength of his New Hampshire primary victory, came here Thursday to spout off against--what else?--the Democratic Party.
He has spent months blasting Democrats for refusing to change their economic tune, and few of them thought enough of him to bother responding. Now that he is a threat, he says, they are standing in line to cast aspersions on his candidacy.
"All of the pooh-bahs in the Democratic Party are so afraid of the idea of the winds of change that they consider my success to be a horror story," he told supporters here, with a sideways glance at Bangor's own expert on such things, fright author Stephen King.
"The party leaders will follow the people," he added, "when the people demand change."
That is Paul Tsongas' way of tweaking the party Establishment that has pooh-poohed him from the start, and, simultaneously, keeping alive the spark that has propelled him this far--his distinctiveness from the rest of the Democratic field.
But he says it now with an edge of assertiveness, as if promising that he will give as good as he gets in the rough-and-tumble weeks to come. He took particular aim at the campaign of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, one of whose senior aides was quoted in USA Today on Thursday calling Tsongas a "son of a bitch."
Tsongas pointedly reminded reporters that he had passed by "so many openings" to criticize Clinton when controversies were swirling around the governor, who, ultimately, finished second to Tsongas in New Hampshire.
"You know, if they want to go down that road, I'm quite willing to go down that road with them," he said. "As Bill Clinton said about (Iowa Sen.) Tom Harkin, no one ever got bigger by tearing others down. He should tell that to his own people."
The aide, Paul Begala, made the remark while complaining that Tsongas was receiving favorable press coverage.
Tsongas came to Maine to press for support before Sunday's caucuses, where he hopes to replicate his Tuesday victory. He told supporters gathered in a restaurant here that they were ahead of party leaders in terms of their appreciation of his message, particularly its conservative economic components.
"The party is going to have to understand that people want jobs," he said.
The former senator's aides say they are hopeful that the burst of publicity that greeted his New Hampshire victory will result in increased donations, which they need fast. Just Wednesday, Tsongas announced here, he collected $300,000 of much-needed financial support.
"That is more money than we raised in June, July and August put together," he said with a hint of wonderment. "This thing has just exploded."
But Thursday illustrated the difficulty facing Tsongas, as he moves from campaigning in New Hampshire, a dozen miles from his Massachusetts home, to the broader range of primaries coming up.
After attending three fund-raisers in New York Wednesday night, Tsongas flew west Thursday morning to South Dakota, the site of the first post-New Hampshire primary on Feb. 25 and an opportunity for Tsongas to display a touch of strength outside his New England base.
Then it was back across the continent to Maine, which he cannot take for granted before its caucuses this Sunday. Thirty-one delegates to the Democratic convention will be selected that day during hundreds of local meetings.
Tsongas is the front-runner here, by virtue of his New England name recognition and the tendency for Maine voters to follow New Hampshire's lead. Since 1976, every New Hampshire winner has also won here.
Mindful of that, none of the other Democrats have actively campaigned in Maine, with the exception of former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who was here.
But Clinton has built a Maine organization and forced Tsongas to pay more attention to the state than he might like. Late Thursday, for example, Tsongas aides were planning to hold events here Saturday in lieu of previously scheduled campaigning in South Carolina.
Given his druthers, Tsongas would like to spend most of his time in Maryland, where the March 3 primary can serve as his vehicle to put party activists on notice that he can win outside the Northeast.