"I'm told deer hang out here," says Sen. John Kerry, pointing toward the banks of the Merrimack River, where just now the fog is lifting. Cameramen crowd the narrow trail behind him, tripping over the loose vines. Still, Kerry is determined to carve out a contemplative space: "I imagine if you come down here when it's quiet, it must be really beautiful," he tells a local environmentalist. Then for a long time, he turns around and stares out onto the river, so that in photos of the event he appears to be alone.
At their most painful, presidential campaigns can be an occasion for a public identity crisis. How one weathers these moments depends on the candidate's personality. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who lately announces a campaign relaunch just about every month, keeps a vaudeville good humor about it: A Joevember to Remember! Operation Liebermania!
Kerry, with his doleful brow, his old-man-of-the-mountain profile, does not wear the upheavals lightly. As a soldier in Vietnam he retreated to his typewriter to express his ambivalence about the war. Last Sunday evening, just before he announced he had fired his campaign manager and unleashed a week of headlines about where his campaign had gone wrong, Kerry was spotted walking in Boston Common at night, alone. (He says it was early evening, and his wife was with him.)
"Kerry thinks a lot," says David Leiter, a former chief of staff. "Some people say he is too thoughtful. But I want that in a president."
Last spring Kerry was atop the polls in New Hampshire by double digits. As a senator for 19 years from neighboring Massachusetts, he was a household name in southern New Hampshire, where 75 percent of the state's voters live, where many people are Boston transplants and where nearly everyone watches Boston TV. Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, was a nobody. Dean is now leading Kerry by 14 points.
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