N.H. campaign warm-up could prove chilly for Bush

January 15, 1992|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- If President Bush has any spare time today during his first campaign swing through New Hampshire, Janna Dewitt has some suggestions for how to spend it.

"Go to Manchester, where the banking system just collapsed," she said. "Go to the unemployment office and talk to the people there. Come out here [to Milford], where the towns are smaller and people either work for themselves in some sort of construction job or commute to a company that just went out of business."

Other voters who still have jobs -- unlike Mrs. Dewitt and her husband, Jim -- suggest icily that the president revisit the spot where he made his now-broken pledge to not raise taxes.

Thus has New Hampshire, so helpful to Mr. Bush in the 1988 campaign, turned into a minefield of an

gry, disillusioned voters, some of whom are rallying behind his long-shot Republican opponent, conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.

Although none of the politically hazardous sites suggested by Mrs. Dewitt is on the president's schedule, they doubtless will be on his mind when he begins preaching a message of economic hope during a series of stops near the New Hampshire coast. In doing so, he probably will offer a few sneak previews of the themes he will use in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address.

The chords he hopes to strike along the way are evident from his New Hampshire itinerary.

First thing this morning, the president will drop by a meeting of the state's local economic development officials. More important is the site: a hangar at the Pease Air National Guard Base near Portsmouth, which the State Department picked last month as the site for a $6.2 million passport processing center. That will bring 400 jobs and a $10 million payroll to the state, only part of the recent federal aid that has been criticized by congressmen in less fortunate neighboring states.

Next for Mr. Bush will be a plant in Dover that makes auto interiorsand would like to crack the Japanese market, which offers Mr. Bush an opportunity to tout the importance of his recent trade mission in Asia.

Then there will be a token "hard times" stop at an insurance office in Dover that has had to cut back on personnel.

The third stop, Cabletron Systems Inc. in Rochester, is one of the few industries in the state that is hiring, not to mention a phenomenal tale of entrepreneurial success.

Started in 1983 by two friends operating out of a garage, the company, which makes equipment allowing differing computer systems to talk to each other, has more than 2,000 employees and turned a profit of $24.1 million during the last quar

ter, up 59 percent from the same period in the previous year.

But by making a stop at Cabletron, Mr. Bush also will be visiting an inadvertent symbol of the state's most pressing economic anxieties.

To fill its 38 job openings for engineers, Cabletron held a job fair Monday night and yesterday, More than 1,000 applicants

showed up.

Among them was Jim Dewitt of Milford, an electrical engineer who has been out of work for months. His wife, Janna, who offered Mr. Bush those suggestions for places to visit, also can't find work after having been a loan officer at a succession of banks that closed.

"Of course, he's going to go there [Cabletron]," Mr. Dewitt said in disgust. "He's going to go somewhere where he's probably going to get some great praise."

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater defended Mr. Bush's schedule against such criticism yesterday, saying the president's stops will bring him into contact with people who "represent a full spectrum of economic situations."

Mr. Bush's approval rating slipped below 50 percent nationwide this week, and a recent poll in New Hampshire shows him getting 46 percent support against Mr. Buchanan's 30 percent.

Gov. Judd Gregg, Mr. Bush's New Hampshire campaign chairman, scoffed at those figures Monday but was caught short a moment laterwhen a reporter reminded the governor of comments he made about Mr. Bush two years ago, when the president broke a campaign promise and supported a tax increase.

At the time, Mr. Gregg said that Mr. Bush should hand in his Republican Party membership card.

"That's a very old story," Mr. Gregg said. "That's history."

But even with such memories still fresh in voters' minds, some strategists think today's visit will serve Mr. Bush well, if only by providing a vent for anger well before the Feb. 18 primary.

"It's a question of how deep the anger runs," said Tom Rath, a Bush adviser and former New Hampshire attorney general.

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