Trail Mix: The Lighter Side of Campaign 2004

The Democratic presidential hopefuls have been taking flak for committing various verbal blunders on the campaign trail. The primal scream Howard Dean emitted in Iowa, of course, remains in a class by itself, but here's a brief sampling of other embarrassments:

* Wesley Clark twice told reporters in Texas he did not believe al Qaeda was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and then had to rush back to the podium to correct himself by saying it was Saddam Hussein who was not connected.

* While speaking at a house party in New Hampshire, John Kerry, in an apparent attempt to conjure poet Robert Frost, offered this bewildering sound bite: "The road traveled is the prologue to the road to be traveled."

* During an appearance on "Hardball," Dean repeatedly said that Iran's nuclear ambitions were being supported by the Soviet Union, a country that ceased to exist a dozen years ago.

* During a debate that aired only on National Public Radio, Dennis Kucinich held up a pie chart to illustrate a point.

But whatever stumbles the Democratic candidates have made, nothing comes close to the gaffe standard set by candidate George W. Bush in 2000. That's when he assured the people of New Hampshire he knew how hard it was "to put food on your family," explained in a debate that "we ought to make the pie higher," expressed confidence that "the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully," declared that "families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream," and famously stated, "They misunderestimated me."

As Bush prepares to hit the hustings again, we could be in for another wild ride. In the past month alone, he has dubbed astronauts "spatial entrepreneurs," announced that "the illiteracy level of our children are appalling," and referred to himself as "governor."

Celebrity Endorsements

Looking for support wherever they can get it, the Democratic candidates have been proudly touting their endorsements from prominent names in the entertainment industry. Here's a look at how the battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the glitterati stands:

Dean leads the pack with backing from two fictional presidents, Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlett of "West Wing") and Michael Douglas (President Andrew Shepherd of "The American President"), although the man who created both characters, writer Aaron Sorkin, reportedly decided to support Dick Gephardt. Director Rob Reiner, comedian Robin Williams, and actors Paul Newman, Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon are also among the many A-list celebrities in the Dean camp.

Clark may not command as large a roster, but he has managed to bring together such mismatched stars as pop diva Madonna, political provocateur Michael Moore, and actor Ted Danson under one big tent. (Looking ahead to a possible Bush-Clark debate, Moore said, "I really want to hear President Bush have to say, 'Yes, General, No, General.'")

In the battle of the bands, Kerry appears to have captured the nostalgia vote with endorsements from James Taylor, Carole King, Bette Midler and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary fame.

Edwards has countered with Hootie & the Blowfish, while Dennis Kucinich is being backed up by Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Ani Difranco and Michelle Shocked. (Gephardt, before he dropped out of the race, had trumpeted his support from aging male crooners Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow and Tony Bennett, which was probably as good a metaphor as any for a candidate whose time had come and gone.)

Edwards, labeled the "Breck Girl" of the 2004 campaign, has attracted pretty boy actor Ashton Kutcher, who no doubt is in it for the soccer moms.

Kucinich boasts an impressive list of endorsements from such prominent actors as Danny Glover, Ed Asner and Joaquin Phoenix, even though his campaign appears to be headed straight to video.

Trailing far behind is Joe Lieberman, which isn't surprising, given his frequent criticisms of the entertainment industry. But that hasn't stopped ESPN commentator Chris Berman from cheering on his underdog candidacy: "The Swami says Joe Lieberman could...go...all...the...way. Just like the Patriots!"

Ad Wars

Best liberal ad to date: The winner of MoveOn.org's much-hyped "Bush in 30 Seconds" ad contest, in which children are seen laboring to pay off Bush's $1 trillion deficit.

Best conservative ad: A spot aired in Iowa by the conservative Club for Growth slamming Dean and the "cultural elites" backing his campaign. In the ad, a farmer says, "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading..." at which point his wife jumps in: "body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."

Ad liberals would like to see: A rebuttal to the Club for Growth ad, telling Bush to take his deficit-creating, war-mongering, gas-guzzling, corporate criminal-coddling, election-stealing, Rush Limbaugh-listening, civil liberty-seizing, Bible-thumping, right-wing dictatorship back to Texas, where it belongs.

Ad conservatives would like to see: Footage of Dean delivering his infamous "I Have a Scream" speech, followed by a quick cut to "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell, who says, "I can honestly say you are the worst candidate I've ever seen in my life."

The Numbers Game

7: Number of flip-flop sandals Lieberman's staff sent to Clark's South Carolina campaign headquarters, representing what they said were the "seven different positions Wes Clark has taken on the Iraq war."

$5,404: Winning bid on eBay for an argyle sweater Clark put up for auction to benefit charity, after the candidate was ridiculed for his poor fashion sense. Clark said he borrowed the sweater from his brother-in-law.

5th: Place in which Lieberman finished in the New Hampshire primary, despite his boast that he was in a "three-way split decision for third place."

21: Percentage of Americans under 30 who say they regularly get their campaign news from TV comedy shows like "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live."

0: Number of presidents whom Bush said had done more for human rights than he has.

Punch Lines

"President Bush came out against gay marriage. He came out for abstinence for teenagers and he came out against performance-enhancing drugs. So he's against sex, drugs and gays. Well, there goes California." --Jay Leno

"The Lieberman campaign seems to be under the impression that there's a large block of voters in America who think George Bush would be perfect if he was just Jewish." --Bill Maher

"Wesley Clark is being coached by former President Bill Clinton. I believe this is the first time a general is being advised by a pot-smoking draft dodger." --David Letterman

"Some people think I'm condescending. Not true. I actually have an off-putting sense of entitlement." --a John Kerry impersonator on "Saturday Night Live"

"The Reverend Al Sharpton attacked President Bush, saying he ruined the economy. For instance, Sharpton hasn't been able to find a job in over 46 years." --Craig Kilborn

"It ends with Howard Dean in a white Bronco being chased down the Santa Monica Freeway." -- Jon Stewart, on how the 2004 race will end.

Daniel Kurtzman is a San Francisco writer and a former Washington correspondent.

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