Beer and loathing on the campaign trail

Sounding hoarse from the intense campaign -- running nights "without sleep, a lot of cold pizza ... some warm beer" -- Kerry told supporters, "I feel like I'm back in exam week in college."
— Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 22, 2004


Jan. 20, 2004 — Early-morning sunshine streams through suite windows as groggy candidate slowly comes to. Combination of previous night's victory party and two hours' sleep has him feeling hung over and tired. Kerry roots around on kitchen counter for remaining slices of cold Domino's pizza; consumes same. Checks in fridge for fresh beer. Finding none, staggers into living room, hunting for half-full discards while taking care not to step on unconscious, buck-naked bodies of campaign volunteers. Strange, crusty feeling between toes is quickly identified: One of these irresponsible bastards has burned the carpet again! Sure enough, Marlboro remnants are piled high in ashtray. Finding lukewarm Stroh's on coffee table, Kerry swills can around in hand, detecting goodly portion of remaining liquid. Raises beer to lips; gags; spits out soggy Camel butt. Exam week officially under way.

Jan. 21 — Candidate pulls all-nighter cramming for New Hampshire debate. While poring over Middle East History notes (purchased secondhand from Pentagon book store), Kerry realizes with shocked dismay that previous owner Paul Wolfowitz has Hi-Lited all pages in totally haphazard, useless fashion. Clock strikes 3 a.m. as candidate places frantic phone call to senate colleague Joe Lieberman to get notes from missed lectures.

Jan. 22 — Debate gets off to rocky start when freshman usher at St. Anselm College's Koonz Auditorium refuses to grant Kerry admission without valid student I.D. Otherwise, event goes smoothly, with most pundits agreeing that candidate's wearing of two-tone beanie didn't detract from overall aura of electability. FOX's Brit Hume, however, is put off by debater's unprovoked, out-of-left-field assertion that all Americans should pledge Tau Kappa Epsilon. Senator celebrates strong performance with cold Papa John's veggie special, warm Coors.

Jan. 23 — Still bleary-eyed from post-debate revelry, Kerry stumbles through rally attended by New Hampshire veterans. (Campaign managers had nixed his plan to "sit in the back and not raise my hand unless I have to be excused.") Subsequent march to Manchester Central Fire Station goes well, despite one retiree's persistent catcalls of "Whatchoo gonna do 'bout my pension, college boy?" Lunchtime chili feed at fire station crumbles into insignificance when Kerry is heard pining for anything with congealed anchovies.

Later that evening, candidate sends surreptitious communiqué to on-the-ropes classroom rival Howard Dean, soliciting transfer of campaign credit hours should Vermont governor "choke," "bomb out" or "get shelled" in next Tuesday's test. Apoplectic Dean refuses offer, saying he'll "take the zero" if need be, and that Kerry is just miffed at him for "wrecking the curve" of primary season with antiwar rhetoric. Senator counters by calmly reminding Dean that nomination is a "pass/fail" proposition. Tempers eventually ebb, and both men agree to meet at a later date to compare anti-Bush strategies -- preferably at a quaint little sports pub Kerry knows where food and beverages are both served room temperature.

Jan. 24 — More cramming, more feverish Hi-Liting, more frigid pepperoni and tepid hops.

Across town, wormy ROTC captain Wesley Clark hatches plans to get Kerry expelled from race, planting stories in media that the senator cheated on congressional midterms and has been on "double secret probation" with DNC bigwigs since start of '03-'04 term. Also, that he shot Clark's favorite horse.

Back at Kerry campaign headquarters, candidate has almost mastered intricacies of Medicare and Renaissance art when Carol Moseley Braun drops by unexpectedly for heart-to-heart talk, wanting to know how her withdrawal from race will affect their relationship. She presses for "something more serious" between them; Kerry demurs, preferring to continue "friends with benefits" arrangement they have maintained all semester. Somewhat wistfully, Braun agrees. Pair seals deal over cold Little Caesars, warm Icehouse.

As evening stress buster, Kerry election team conducts panty raid on hotel room of visiting House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Raid uncovers nothing of value.

Jan. 25 — Midafternoon, switchboard operator at Kerry H.Q. breaks quiet concentration of intense Modern Religion study session by announcing phone call from "that creepy guy who graduated years ago but won't stop hanging around." Kerry picks up receiver, says hello to Dick Gephardt. Latter is calling to inquire into possibility of vice-presidential nod, or perhaps borrowing senator's Vespa for upcoming date with foxy nursing major. Candidate Kerry agrees to consider both possibilities, but only after intense hazing period in which Gephardt will have to carry 40 pounds of bricks up and down Capitol steps.

Dinner: stale Crazy Bread, month-old Foster's oil can. (Things getting serious now.)

Jan. 26 — Caught up, confident and for once well-rested (four hours at least!), candidate strolls into campaign media room, joking to reporters what a "good omen" it is that he suffered neither of the two most common pre-primary nightmares: 1) being unable to find the right room; 2) giving concession speech with no pants on. A model of preparedness, smiling senator lays out No. 2 pencils (for signing autographs) and places study aids on floor below desk (to demonstrate command of issues). Campaign staff is aglow, encouraged by healthy poll numbers and morning debacle in which Judy Steinberg Dean appeared on "The View" to sing "A Kappa Kappa Gamma Is What I Am-a."

As Kerryites begin to make plans for celebratory bladder bust at nearby oyster pub, candidate steals glance at copy of morning's Portsmouth Herald. Swift, paralyzing shock sets in: Overnight survey reveals New Hampshire voters are most concerned about economy and 18th Century American Lit. Kerry studied chapters on homeland security and Comparative Psych.

Candidate rushes to nearest bathroom, vomits up breadsticks, Heinekens.

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