Lights, cameras ... smile!
By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit
Kill 'em with kindness: Sen. John Edwards, shown here at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, attributes his success in Iowa to his upbeat message.
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- When the cameras roll tonight at the St. Anselm's College debate, look for all seven Democrats to be on their best behavior. Why? Because the biggest message out of Iowa this week wasn't about organization, money or momentum. It was about kindness.
The king of caucus kindness was, of course, John Edwards, who attributes his stunning two-week surge from fourth to second place to his campaign's relentlessly positive, optimistic themes.
With that in mind, the Grind was shocked, shocked Wednesday after obtaining 10 pages from an Edwards campaign memo that explicitly told his precinct captains how to attack his rivals on caucus night.
The document, which aides confirmed was part of a 50-page packet they distributed earlier this month, instructs captains to describe Howard Dean as an "elitist from Park Avenue in New York City." It says John Kerry "can't claim to change America because he has been part of the failed Washington politics for too long."
"In order to beat [President] Bush, we need a nominee who can win Southern states, not another New Englander or Washington insider who loses every Southern state," the memo reads, referring to both Dean and Kerry.
It also offers a particularly detailed critique of Dick Gephardt. Under his leadership, it says, House Democrats "lost control of Congress in 1994, and lost four more times since then. ... We can't afford another losing national campaign against George W. Bush and the Republicans."
It adds, "Even if Gephardt somehow wins in Iowa, his campaign is eventually dead, just as it was in 1988."
Campaigning last night in Portsmouth, Edwards told CNN's Phil Hirschkorn that he only learned about the memo after CNN started making inquiries early yesterday. "I found out about it tonight for the first time, and I take full responsibility for anything that happened in my campaign," he said. "I didn't know about this. It's wrong, and I have given them instructions it is not ever to happen again."
"I condemn it. It should not have happened, and it will not happen again. But I'm responsible for it, not them. I'm the person running. I've ordered them not to do anything like that, and it better not be happening in New Hampshire."
OK. Fair enough.
But wait .... If that's the case, then why did Edwards' signature appear prominently at the top of the memo, next to his type-written name? Again, shock.
While he acknowledged that the senator had signed the memo, communications director David Ginsberg said the full document is 50 pages long. Ginsberg dismissed the notion that Edwards, by signing the document, was confirming that he had read the tome.
"The booklet has positive stuff in it," including an outline of Edwards' stands on issues and an explanation of how the caucus system works, Ginsberg said. "This was something given to our field people who were under attack and needed to defend themselves against all these baseless phone calls and negative mail they were receiving from other candidates."
Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards spokeswoman, said the memo was written by his Iowa campaign. She declined to say which Iowa aides drafted it.
One final point: The memo notably spared Dennis Kucinich, instead heaping praise on the Ohio congressman with whom Edwards disagrees strongly on the Iraq war. Before the caucuses, we should note, Edwards and Kucinich said they agreed to a deal whereby Kucinich supporters would instead back Edwards if they were unable to solidify a certain level of support, known as "viability," within each caucus meeting.
"Senator Edwards has a lot of respect for Dennis Kucinich," the memo reads, "and the passion he brings to this race."
The debate at Saint Anselm College begins at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on WMUR-TV and Fox News. Fox News' Brit Hume and ABC News' Peter Jennings will moderate. Other panelists include WMUR-TV news anchor Tom Griffith and John DiStaso, senior political reporter for The Union Leader.
• At a town hall meeting in Plaistow, Joe Lieberman called himself "the Democrat that the Republicans don't want to run against as president."
• After shaking hands with customers at Roland Diner in Nashua, John Edwards said his name at the top of the '04 ticket would "make it easier" for Southern Democrats. "If you're in Georgia, do you want Howard Dean campaigning with you? Do you want John Kerry?"
• Wesley Clark was introduced in Littleton and Portsmouth by Brian Hardy, commander of the VFW Post, who started both intros by mentioning that he had originally supported Howard Dean.
• Security had to turn people away at John Kerry's town hall meeting last night after 1,100 people showed up. Hawaii Sen. Daniel Patrick Inouye, a decorated WWII veteran, will endorse Kerry today.