Primary Highlights and Lowlights

Election '04

For a contest originally billed as a snooze fest, the Democratic presidential race turned out to be a surprisingly wild and entertaining ride. As the curtain falls on the primary season, here's a look at some of the most memorable feats, foibles and dubious achievements from the Democratic campaign trail.

The envelopes, please:

Best anti-Bush sound bite: Describing President Bush's tax cuts during a debate in South Carolina, Al Sharpton said, "It's like Jim Jones giving you Kool-Aid. It tastes good, but it will kill you."

Worst catchphrase: Before losing the New Hampshire primary, Joe Lieberman declared that his campaign was gaining "Joementum." After he dropped his presidential bid a week later, Slate correspondent William Saletan paid tribute to Lieberman in a "Joebituary," writing that he had suffered "Joemiliation" and wound up as "Joadkill" after going "Joe-for-7" in the primaries. "Joe revoir, Joe. Joerivederci. Hasta Joe Vista. ... There is no Joe in Mudville."

Lowest campaign moment: After a series of stumbles late last year, John Kerry's campaign reached its nadir when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" and received second-billing to a puppet act. Worse, the puppet trash-talked him. "What's going on with this show?" asked Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a foul-mouthed Rottweiler voiced by comedian Robert Smigel. "(Arnold Schwarzenegger) can take over the show, but John Kerry, a war veteran, has to follow a freaking dog puppet?" He then offered this assessment of the candidate: "The poop I made in the dressing room has more heat than John Kerry."

Most amusing debate interchange: Appearing before an audience of young voters, the Democratic hopefuls were asked which of their fellow candidates they would most like to party with. Sharpton answered, "Mrs. Kerry -- I'm sorry." To which John Kerry replied: "I was going to choose Carol Moseley Braun, but now I'm going to have to choose you so I can keep an eye on my wife."

A close second: During a debate in Iowa, Dick Gephardt said, "Everybody up here, except Dennis (Kucinich), voted for NAFTA and voted for the China agreement." John Edwards replied: "I didn't vote for NAFTA. I campaigned against NAFTA." Gephardt: "Well, John, you weren't in Congress when NAFTA came up, so you couldn't vote." Edwards: "But you just said I voted for it." Gephardt: "I understand." Edwards: You understand?" (Laughter.)

Best analogy: During a debate in Iowa, Braun said, "I'm reminded of the true story of my parents' worst argument. The toilet broke, and there was water going everywhere. My mother sent my father to the hardware store. He came back with a new lawnmower. That's really what's happened to us in this country. We were chasing bin Laden, and they gave it up."

Best anti-Kerry sound bite: Speaking about the Democrats in an address to the Republican Governors Association, Bush said, "The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions: for tax cuts and against them ... for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act, in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."

Best campaign rally chant: At an Iowa campaign rally, Gephardt ticked off a litany of Bush administration failings and capped it off by saying, "And now he says we need to go to Mars!" The crowd began chanting: "Send Bush to Mars! Send Bush to Mars!"

Biggest scandal that wasn't: Despite titillating allegations peddled by Internet bottom-feeder Matt Drudge that Kerry had an affair with an intern, the story proved to be bogus. After most media outlets ignored the unsubstantiated report, Drudge wrote a follow-up claiming the woman in question instead had an affair with a longtime Kerry aide. Later, Drudge had the audacity to complain to USA Today that "major media ought to be ashamed of themselves" for not pursuing a "red-hot story."

Least ready for prime time: Howard Dean's infamous primal scream wouldn't have been nearly as damaging if it had not been part of a larger pattern of gaffes and baffling sound bites. Take, for example, the following impromptu discourse he delivered while teaching an eighth-grade science class in Wisconsin: "Now that we're on dog pee, we can have an interesting conversation about that. I do not recommend drinking urine...but if you drink water straight from the river, you have a greater chance of getting an infection than you do if you drink urine."

Most eligible bachelor: Aside from driving around in a bus that ran on vegetable oil, Kucinich's campaign will probably be best remembered for his efforts to score with the ladies. The bachelor candidate went on a date with a woman who won an Internet contest titled "Who Wants to Be a First Lady," and also got matched up with actress Jennifer Tilly, who was one of three contestants who vied for a date with him on "The Tonight Show."

Worst case of denial: With the vote tally in New Hampshire showing Lieberman coming in fifth behind Wesley Clark and Edwards, the "Loserman" half of the 2000 "Sore-Loserman" ticket made this jubilant announcement to supporters: "We are in a three-way split decision for third place."

Clearest sign of a doomed candidacy: During an appearance on "The Tonight Show," Gephardt admitted that while he was in the airport in his hometown of St. Louis, he was asked to settle a bet between two women wondering if he was a CNN weatherman or Dan Quayle.

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

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