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Beware of candidates lurking behind the bushes

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People often ask me: "Dave, as a leading candidate for president yourself, can you be unbiased when you write about the other candidates?"

Yes. When I believe that my opponents are wrong, I will point that out. But, by the same token, when I believe that my opponents are having carnal relations with livestock, I will point that out, too. "Fair and balanced," that is my legally trademarked motto.

So today I'm going analyze the presidential campaign, which, in accordance with our constitution, is taking place exclusively at picnics in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters are lured to these picnics by free food, unaware that presidential contenders are lurking in the bushes, dressed in plaid shirts so they will appear human. A voter will be about to chow down, only to find himself suddenly locked in the death-grip handshake of, say, U.S. Rep. Dick "Dick" Gephardt, who commences to explain his views on pension reform. The voter nods thoughtfully, although what he's thinking is: "When he lets go of my hand, I can eat my bratwurst."

"Dick" is one of approximately 78 leading Democratic contenders who've been going from picnic to picnic in a dense candidate clot. The only thing they all agree on is that they're WAYYYYY smarter than President Bush. They watch him on television, frowning the way he does when he's trying to say a big word like "appliance," and they think: "How come HE'S holding press conferences with Tony Blair, and I'M lurking in these bushes covered with bratwurst juice?" It drives them CRAZY, inside their clot.

As I write these words, the front-running Democrat is a surprise newcomer named Howard Dean, who is the mayor of Rhode Island or something. It doesn't matter. The important thing is: He's new! He's hot! He's on the Internet! He's got Martin Sheen! Above all, he's not "Dick" Gephardt! We in the news media currently love Howard, and we will actively promote his candidacy until we receive word from News Media Conspiracy Headquarters that it's time to crush him like an ant.

Let me say this to my fellow news mediums: When we decide to pick a new front-runner, we should take a hard look at Florida Sen. Bob "Bob" Graham. Really. I've known Sen. Graham for more than 20 years, during which I've interviewed him on a number of issues, and I've always found his answers to be thought-provoking. The specific thought

they provoke is: "Huh?"

Here's a true example. Ten years ago, I found out that the last remaining accordion-repair training program in the United States, located in Winona, Minn., was closing, leaving our nation's vital accordion resources dangerously dependent on foreigners. I called Sen. Graham's office, and he got on the phone personally. In rapid succession, he made the following statements, which I swear I am not making up: — "Just last night I ate at an Italian restaurant which, like thousands of other Italian restaurants across America, is now without music, because their accordion is in disrepair and has been returned from Winona, Minn., with postage due."

— "We are preparing an anti-dumping order against Liechtenstein, which has become the center of accordion repair on a global basis and has developed some ferociously anti-competitive practices."

— "I don't know whether the actual use of nuclear weapons is called for, but I do think we need a credible military threat."

Back when Graham was governor of Florida, I asked him what he planned to do about the issue of harmonica safety. Without hesitation, he gave a two-minute speech, with statistics, proving that all of Florida's harmonica-related deaths were actually the fault of the previous governor. Really. And now he's running for president! If we in the news media don't do all we can to promote this man's campaign, we are even stupider than I thought.

In conclusion, I want to extend my sincere best wishes to all of my opponents, Republican and Democrat, and to state that, in the unlikely event I am not elected, I will support whoever is, even if it is Sen. John Kerry, who once came, with his entourage, into a ski-rental shop in Ketchum, Idaho, where I was waiting patiently with my family to rent snowboards, and Sen. Kerry used one of his lackeys to flagrantly barge in line ahead of us and everybody else, as if he had some urgent senatorial NEED for a snowboard, like there was about to be an emergency meeting, out on the slopes, of the Joint Halfpipe Committee. I say it's time for us, as a nation, to put this unpleasant incident behind us. I know that I, for one, have forgotten all about it. That is how fair and balanced I am.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132. Knight Ridder Newspapers