On Tuesday morning, Kerry returned bleary-eyed but victorious, touching down in New Hampshire for the first time in 12 days, traveling not third but first class in the campaign's own plum-full 168-passenger 737 Sun Country jet.
The Senator spent his first waking hours walking a tricky political tightrope. In three separate morning show interviews, Kerry proclaimed himself 'Comeback Kerry' then quickly reminded viewers that he's behind in New Hampshire and, therefore, still the underdog.
Exiting the interviews, Kerry gathered with friends, family, and staff at the Wiggins terminal of Manchester Airport.
Spread across the conference table dominating the room's center were the day's headlines from the Boston Globe, New York Times, Nashua Telegraph, USA Today, and other papers.
The team Shaheen, advisor Bob Shrum, siblings Diane and Cameron Kerry, Rep. Ed Markey, singer Carole King and exhausted Iowa staffers could not help but smile, between Dunkin Donut coffee sips, at the sight of "Kerry pulls off Iowa upset; Dean finishes a distant third".
In an airport hangar rally for re-energized supporters, Kerry, standing in front an enormous American flag and with just a hint of a fledging voice, bellowed, "All of you have made me a better candidate…I am the underdog (in New Hampshire) but I have not yet begun to fight."
The cautious candidate made only one oblique reference to Gen. Clark, proclaiming in his speech, "I am a lifelong Democrat," to thunderous applause. As the Kerry campaign re-groups following their fast break from the starting gate the essential questions remain: how far will momentum take the Massachusetts Senator and where does he focus after New Hampshire?
The campaign has already begun to move pieces on the political organization chess board. In the wake of Monday's win, several Iowa staffers jumped aboard the Des Moines to Manchester charter, some to aid in the Granite State, others to position for possible re-deployment.
Iowa lead advancer Teresa Wells will likely remain in New Hampshire while Hawkeye State spokesperson Laura Capps will trade ear muffs for sun block in Arizona. And, in what is viewed both long overdue and a strategically brilliant move by at least one Note scribe, Iowa Political Director Mike Malaise will attempt to work his down home charm in North Dakota.
Advance and organizational resources have also set their sights on southern entrée South Carolina but overall the campaign's long-range focus has not yet come into full view.
But with the first battle in Kerry's two-front momentum war decisively won, the near-term goal appears to be following the Iowa model: lower expectations as long as one can, break late, and score an energy building surprise.
Ironically, the source of Kerry's biggest potential and his biggest potential for weakness is his own success. Clearly pleased with their success in Iowa, the Kerry campaign has become a more confident but still 'F'-word free zone. After all, Seabiscuit breaks best when challenged and when running from behind.