Dean’s group almost didn’t get a delegate at all, and probably wouldn’t have had Kerry’s precinct chair not been AWOL, leaving his supporters in the lurch. In the end, Kerry’s five core people adamantly chose to remain uncounted rather than stand in another candidate’s corner. Jim, the volunteer observer from Kerry’s campaign who was there (and preferred to be referred to by his first name), said, “Can you believe this? We’re gonna win this thing, and we can’t even get a delegate in this room?”
An hour later, when Jim’s prediction was coming more true than he imagined, I ran into him at the ballroom of the Hotel Fort Des Moines, where Kerry’s victory party was held. “See?” he said, drink in hand and smiling. “What did I tell you? I can’t believe it!”
At Dean’s party across town, the crowd was remarkably upbeat considering the significant defeat their man had just suffered. As usual, the Dean scene was cooler but less convincing as the backbone of an effective campaign — more like a party than a political event. They were at the hippest venue in town: the Val Air in West Des Moines, a great old open-air ballroom with a maple hardwood dance floor that opened in 1937 to accommodate the big bands like Glenn Miller’s when they came through town. The Perfect Storm Troopers were everywhere, all immediately identifiable by their bright-orange hats. Everyone was drinking. Many Dean staffers were wondering where they’d go next. Others knew already, and were saying goodbyes. A few had been crying. As the room thinned, the place had the bittersweet feeling of summer camp coming to an end. Unless Dean can keep his shrinking lead in an Indian summer in New Hampshire, many of the people at the Val Air will never see each other again.
“Looks like Joe Trippi had his head up his ass,” said one Iowa Democratic legislator as the dance floor got cold. “He was on Fox yesterday saying that his organization was worth three or four points that the polls weren’t showing. The follow-up question should have been: ‘Yeah — in what direction?’”