WASHINGTON – Democratic candidate John Kerry's (search) recent gesture to pot use has caused little smoke much less the fire reminiscent of the shockwaves surrounding Bill Clinton's college-age experiment and 1992 contortions explaining that he did not inhale.
Appearing at a Iowa house party earlier this week, the presidential contender and his supporters sang along with Peter Yarrow -- of Peter, Paul and Mary (search) fame -- as Yarrow strummed the folk group's famous song "Puff the Magic Dragon."
The song, while seemingly a children's tune, is better known among the '60s set as a tribute to the leafy drug. Making an apparent reference to the true meaning of the song, Kerry, in front of cameras, raised his fingers to his mouth as if toking on an imaginary marijuana cigarette.
The motion drew loud laughs from guests at the house party, but barely a murmur from analysts, who say the former use of marijuana (search) by the presidential candidates is barely as scandalous as in the days of Clinton's candidacy.
"This generation makes jokes about smoking marijuana. They make jokes about being stoned. How many times in a conversation have you said to somebody 'Is he stoned'? So, I think it's just something that is of the times, I don't think it means anything," said Democratic strategist Ellen Kamarck.
"This was a light moment, this was not any sort of serious campaign business," said Washington Post reporter Ceci Connelly, a Fox News contributor who was one of the media mavens at the house party.
Since President Clinton acknowledged his personal knowledge of marijuana, several candidates have come forth and said they have experimented with the drug. In a November debate sponsored by MTV, Kerry, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) and Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina all admitted dabbling with pot.
2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore also admitted smoking pot. During that same election, then-Texas Gov. George Bush (search) attempted to evade questions regarding rumors of past drug use, including cocaine. After several revisions, the campaign finally said that Bush would have passed any drug tests after his 28th birthday.
Asked about critics' complaints that regardless of whether Kerry -- a Massachusetts senator and Vietnam veteran -- smoked marijuana, the gesture doesn't look presidential and makes him lose respect on the world stage, Connelly said she hadn't heard any complaints.
"There are such bigger issues that the campaigns are fighting about right now. I have not heard that comment from anyone in Iowa. I just don't see it as being an issue to voters out here," she said.
In fact, Connelly said Kerry's motion is just one example of assertions from within and outside his campaign that he is starting to enjoy the race.
"I think actually it shows that he has really loosened up down here on the campaign trail. He's having some fun with some of his friends coming along ... I think you see a very relaxed John Kerry on the campaign trail right now," she said.