Dave Barry

Dave Barry: Real candidates belch and reek

MANCHESTER, NH -- The voters of New Hampshire have made their decision, and the big winner is: Change. Here's the final vote tally:

Change -- 43 percent

Hope -- 28 percent

Hope For Change -- 17 percent

Hair -- 9 percent

Experience -- 2 percent

Dennis Kucinich -- 1 percent:

Now it's time for the politicians and the press to drop New Hampshire like an ant-covered corn dog and sprint for the airport, leaving the residents of The Granite State to spend the rest of the winter plucking 239 billion candidate signs out of their snowbanks, all the while wondering if there ever really was a candidate named ''Mike Gravel,'' or if that was just teenagers playing a sign-planting prank.

Meanwhile the eyeballs of the nation will turn toward the Next Crucial Phase of the presidential race, South (or North) Carolina, which at the moment is the epicenter of the political world, not to mention Dick Harpootlian. I have not, personally, conducted any journalism research in North (or South) Carolina, but based on sitting in my hotel room eating Cheez-Its and thinking about it, I would say that the issue most on the minds of voters there, at the moment, is: Change. Although of course that could change.

Meanwhile there are many unanswered questions about the races in both parties. On the Democratic side: Is Barack Obama for real? Or is he, as sources inside the Hillary Clinton campaign have suggested, a hologram formed by laser beams? Is the nation truly ready for a hologram president? And speaking of Hillary Clinton: When her eyes appeared to well up with tears during a campaign appearance at a New Hampshire diner, was that real welling? Or did she fake the welling? If she did, in fact, well, do we know for certain that those were her own personal tears? Why was no sample made available to the media for testing?

Among the unanswered questions on the Republican side are: Is John McCain, at 117, too old and cranky to be president? Like, during the White House Easter Egg Roll, would he come outside in his bathrobe and yell, ``You kids get off my lawn!''

Does Mitt Romney contain any human DNA whatsoever? Does he, for example, burp? Can he emit bodily aromas?

And is there any TV show that Mike Huckabee will NOT appear on? Are we going to see him one of these nights on Deal or No Deal? Why does anybody, aside from Howie Mandel's immediate family, watch that show?

These are only some of the questions that we, as a nation, will be trying to answer in the critical days ahead. But before we do, let's take a moment to look back on both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, and ask ourselves if these two non-representative states -- which have, between them, roughly the same total minority population as Gladys Knight and the Pips -- should play such a huge role in selecting our presidential nominees. This is a very complex issue, with many strong arguments on both sides.

No, sorry, correction: It's actually a simple issue. The Iowa/New Hampshire system is insane. It's like a 50-table restaurant with a big, varied menu, except that only two tables are allowed to order. If these two tables order clams, for example, or Michael Dukakis, that's what gets served to all the other tables. But at this point I don't think there's anything the rest of the states can do about it. Iowa and New Hampshire will do anything to be first. You populous states can't beat them, because they want it more than you do. They're like the people who camp out for two weeks so they can be in front of the line to buy tickets for a hot concert, except that instead of a hot concert, it's a chance to shake hands with Duncan Hunter six different times. Tough luck, residents of populous states! At least you don't have to deal with the snowbank signs.

Anyway, this concludes my New Hampshire coverage. I will write further campaign reports as events warrant, meaning after I do my laundry.

Until then, America: Don't go changing.