Let's see, now. This week the latest political polls show our Howard Dean 21 points ahead of John Kerry in New Hampshire and 10 points ahead of Dick Gephardt in Iowa. Dr. Dean is even nine points ahead of Kerry in Big John's home state of Massachusetts.
You know what?
With less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the little guy from Vermont has it all locked up.
Attack as they did in Monday's MSNBC debate from Des Moines, Iowa, neither Kerry nor Gephardt could land a glove on Ho-Ho. Dean's confidence was showing. And didn't Gen. Wesley Clark just about cement his position as Dean's running mate?
On Sunday The New York Times put the front-page microscope on Ho-Ho's handling of the draft back in the days of the Vietnam War. It's been raised before and, believe me, it'll be raised again.
Dean was not drafted because of a medical condition called spondylolisthesis. It's not life-threatening and you can ski all winter in Aspen with it, as Dean did, but it was medical grounds for a 1-Y classification instead of a 1-A.
Following the bloodbath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, most Americans of Dean's generation realized the U.S. military invasion of Vietnam was a complete waste. But President Richard Nixon needed bodies, and the draft provided them.
Many young men went to Canada to avoid service. Many went to prison, too. Others feigned mental illness or homosexuality. At the time, we recall, it was not uncommon for some to drop LSD before their draft physical.
One lesson some learned from Vietnam was to never again rely on a draft. Technology has "advanced" the style of warfare. More computers, fewer foot soldiers.
The Republicans will surely bring up the Dean draft stuff again during the fall campaign, but they risk more questions about Dubya's checkered stateside service in the Texas Air Guard.
With Gen. Clark as a running mate, though, Ho-Ho will have his military ass covered.
More and more, papers across the country are digging into the real Dean. You know, the tightfisted Republican, er, Democrat governor who put Vermont's financial house in order.
Sunday's San Diego Tribune had a cute piece titled "Vermonters Puzzled by Dean's Liberal Image." The flatlanders are starting to catch on.
"He sure wasn't a liberal," said State Rep. Ann Seibert (D-Norwich). "I'm a liberal. I fought him on a yearly basis."
And great fights they were, too.
Republican State Sen. Bill Doyle told the California daily he saw Ho-Ho as "a reasonably conservative Democrat."
And former Progressive State Rep. Terry Bouricius put the kibosh on the notion that Dean championed equal rights for gay couples.
Mr. Bouricius told the San Diego paper the issue of same-sex marriage was "something that was thrust upon him. I think he took the most conservative approach."
You know what?
They're all right!
For those of us in Vermont who know him so well, it's a delight to watch the press in the other 49 states get hip to the real Howard Dean.
The only question is, will the millions who flock to the banner of America's newest political messiah keep the faith when they realize their god is made of more conservative clay?
By then, of course, they'll have no one else to turn to.
You know, it's much easier to write the electoral vote scenario for Bush losing than it is for a Dean defeat.
All Ho-Ho has to do is hold the states Al Gore carried and win New Hamp-shire, too. If he does that, Howard Dean will be the next President of the United States.
Add to that Ohio's 20 electoral votes that Bush carried with the gracious help of Ralph Nader, and optimism rises.
Arizona is also on the winnable list for Dean. And what about Florida?
Most people believe a recount in 2000 would have put it in the Gore column. Surely those retirees in the Florida sunshine will pick a doctor over a budget-busting war monger, especially one who is owned lock, stock and barrel by the greedy pharmaceutical industry.
Many national commentators still consider Bush invincible. But six months ago, not one of them thought Ho-Ho had a shot at the Democratic nomination. What does that tell you?
P.S. The handiwork of Kerry's new campaign manager is already showing. Mary Beth Cahill, who built her reputation by directing Sen. Patrick Leahy's U.S. Senate landslide victory in 1986, has only been onboard a week and already Kerry looks better.
We know Mary Beth has got the best eye in the business. So we weren't surprised to see Kerry sporting a new hairstyle this week. The guy suffered from a major "Big Hair" problem. It went hand in hand with his "Big Head" problem. Not only was Big John's haircut the shortest we've ever seen it, it was thinned out, too.
Now, if she could only get him to talk differently. It's never too late to learn the English language, eh?
Speaking of Leahy -- Last week we reported IDX whiz Rich Tarrant has "not ruled out" a bid for the Republican nomination to take on St. Patrick next year. Later we learned Mr. Tarrant had previously fast-talked a local TV station out of reporting his interest in the race.
But sources say Mr. Tarrant followed up on the Seven Days report with a confidential email to IDX manager types. In it, we're told, Mr. Rich attempted to "dispel rumors" about a possible run for the U.S. Senate. He reaffirmed his commitment to IDX and wrote that he "is not a candidate."
In the post-Clinton age, some noticed there was no time qualifier on Tarrant's declaration of non-candidacy, such as "will not be" a candidate. Or not a candidate "at this time."
So we contacted Mr. Tarrant Tuesday asking for clarification, or perhaps a copy of his electronic missive to the troops.
"If it was confidential, as you suggested," wrote Tarrant, "then I wouldn't share it with anyone not on the list, right?"
Right. Absolutely. Just asking.
You may have noticed Richie didn't address the question about the length of his non-candidate status.
He always had a good jump shot.
Tire Fire Update -- At present the ball is in the court of New York's Department of Environ-mental Conservation. The ball is International Paper's plan to do a test burn of tire-derived fuel at its giant Ticonderoga paper plant, starting December 8.
Burning tires instead of oil will lower costs at the paper mill.
Jim Coutant, the air-pollution boss at the DEC in Albany, told Seven Days Tuesday that his agency is "evaluating all the information. We haven't reached a decision."
The proposed tire burn has lit a fire under Vermont environmental organizations, particularly VPIRG. They warn that unsafe heavy metals, especially zinc, will fly out of the smokestack on the western shore of Lake Champlain and hit the ground downwind on the eastern shore -- Vermont.
Sources on both sides of the lake tell Seven Days that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has given the December test a green light. But while the feds don't regulate zinc emissions, the states of New York and Vermont do.
At its Web site, www.vpirg.org, the environmental group devotes a page to "Why Tire Burning Is a Problem."
Not surprisingly, Larry Phillips, environmental engineer at the Ticonderoga pulp and paper mill, takes exception to some of VPIRG's claims.
"I'm an environmentalist, too," said Phillips. "I have two daughters who breathe the air. I don't ship stuff off to other peoples' back yards."
Phillips said he was "a little miffed" at some of the assertions emanating from the eastern side of the lake about the "dangers" of burning shredded used tires as fuel for the plant.
VPIRG, for example, lists a host of chemical compounds released by burning tires. But Phillips pointed out those same chemicals are also released by burning oil, wood or any other carbon-based fuel.
The trick, said Phillips, is to perfect the air-to-fuel ratio of the burn to produce the least possible amount of material going out of the stack. In fact, said Phillips, there are already so many pollution-control devices in place that, when the tires are fired properly, the naked eye will see zero smoke coming out.
Fiery Fiermonte -- A few folks were surprised by Progressive City Councilor Phil Fiermonte's strike on Fletcher Allen Health Care last week. Fiermonte, ex-union organizer and top Vermont aide to Congressman Bernie Sanders, convened a city hall press conference to express his concern that the Mary Fanny was shipping medical transcription jobs overseas. He called it a "dangerous" precedent.
At his side were State Rep. Steve Hingtgen (P-Burlington) and Jen Henry, R.N., the president of the nurses' union.
Fiermonte's been a key Prog organizer for more than 20 years. He was one of the campaign workers for a mayoral candidate named Bernie Sanders way back in 1981. Until winning his City Council seat, Phil was pretty much a behind-the-scenes guy. More and more, he's been taking the point. But his shot at the Mary Fanny was a questionable one. Why?
Because the hospital brass had already met with him and was moving on a plan to get those 11 jobs back in Vermont. The plan involves Vermont HITEC, a new local nonprofit that trains jobless folks in rural Vermont as medical transcriptionists. It's work that can be done from home with an Internet connection.
Vermont HITEC's Julie Davis told Seven Days Vermont's been experiencing a "shortage" of medical transcriptionists. "That doesn't mean we can't train them," she said enthusiastically.
Ms. Davis said she met with Fiermonte and FAHC's Theresa Alberghini DiPalma about the matter earlier this month.
"They were extremely pleased and excited about it," said Davis. This week, she said she was a little surprised Fiermonte went ahead with a press conference on the issue, since progress was being made.
Fiery Phil defended his media strategy. "We weren't there to slam the hospital," said Phil. "The fact that local medical records are being transcribed in Bombay or wherever is an important issue," he insisted.
Queried on the need to call a press conference when things appeared to be moving forward, Fiery Fiermonte told Seven Days that he was actually "pleased" with the discussions he's had with the hospital but wanted to "move the issue forward," because in his experience with the Mary Fanny "these issues can get stuck in a black hole."
Damn black holes.
Media Notes -- Central Vermont newspaper Publisher R. John Mitchell's two Vermont dailies appear to be on the comeback trail.
The morning Rutland Herald and the afternoon Barre-Montpelier Times Argus have for years been the only significant daily competition for the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press.
But things went south a few years ago. A number of the paper's best and brightest, managing editor John van Hoesen and writers Jack Hoffman, Diane Derby, Fred Bever and John Dillon hit the road. They were the sort that once made the Herald and the TA must reading for Vermont political junkies. For the last few years, we dare say both papers have been in an awful slump.
Now the dust is starting to settle and a comeback is underway. The Times Argus has become a morning paper. And the "Vermont Press Bureau" that provides the state political coverage to both papers has received a shot in the arm.
Darren Allen, the new bureau chief, arrived last March from Maryland. Allen, 37, is a Northwestern grad who covered cops and courts for the Balti-more Sun and regulatory agencies for the Bureau of National Affairs.
Two months ago, Groucho, er, sorry, Claude R. Marx joined the team. Marx, 42, hit the ground running. He recently made Hotline, the Web-based political sheet, with the snappy lead from a story on Ho-Ho: "If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Howard Dean and those working on his presidential campaign are in no danger of suffering from a calcium deficiency."
Mr. Marx was at the Washington bureau of the Associated Press covering Pennsylvania prior to landing the job in Vermont.
"It was a good job offer," said Claude. "I like state politics and I like Vermont."
Allen and Marx join David Mace, who moved over from the TA to the capital bureau about two years ago. Mace, best-dressed Statehouse scribe, carries the institutional memory. It was Mace who had Tuesday's scoop about Doug Racine deciding not to run for governor again in 2004.
There have also been changes at the top. Both the TA
and the Herald have new managing editors. Maria Archangelo (Bureau Chief Allen's spouse) has taken over the reins in Barre.
Bob Gibson (not the former Cardinals pitching ace) arrived in Rutland this year from the Gazette in Billings, Montana, where he worked for the last 24 years. Bob had long visited Vermont on vacation. His wife is from Windsor County. Now he lives and works in what once was vacationland.
The talent's there, folks. The new gang is steadily getting up to speed. Hopefully this winter, folks in the Burlington area will once again be muttering that old familiar refrain: "You've got to read the Rutland Herald to know what's really going on in Vermont."