MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Smooth-talking Pat Buchanan is enjoying a whirlwind affair with New Hampshire Republicans, who are eager for a little romance after three years of marriage to George Bush.
Mr. Buchanan woos them with barbed criticism of tax increases, "quota" bills, federal spending and foreign aid -- sweet words to Republicans who feel unaided in the recession and betrayed by a leader who they believe is sleeping with Democrats.
"When he announced his candidacy, I was absolutely delighted," says lifelong Republican Vern Townsend, attending a Rotary Club luncheon in Concord where Mr. Buchanan spoke this week. "Finally, we've got somebody who can talk on the level of a middle-class person."
Mr. Townsend, who works for an aerospace company and voted for Mr. Bush in 1988, says he will "definitely" vote for Mr. Buchanan in the primary Feb. 18 "unless something changes dramatically between now and six weeks from now."
His reaction is typical of many Buchanan supporters, but even though polls show widespread dissatisfaction with President Bush, it has not yet translated into widespread defections from the president.
In a poll of GOP voters in New Hampshire by the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV, 56 percent said they would vote for Mr. Bush and 21 percent for Mr. Buchanan.
The candidate himself is cautious.
"There's a tremendous wellspring of support for me, and I think a lot of folks are delighted I'm making this challenge," says Mr. Buchanan. "But do they see me as a potential president now? That's something I don't know. Some do, but how many I don't know."
Candidates rarely express such doubts publicly. But Mr. Buchanan is in some ways the unlikeliest of candidates, particularly given that he is running against the Washington political establishment.
Patrick J. Buchanan is a native of Washington, D.C., and a media celebrity there today. Although he worked for Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan in the White House, where he honed the writing and speaking skills that have made him a wealthy commentator and columnist, he has never held office.
"What has Pat Buchanan done to become president of the
United States"? asks Bush ally Thomas D. Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general.
But the question never came up as Mr. Buchanan made campaign stops this week at the New Hampshire Capitol in Concord, where he signed a no-taxes pledge and dared President Bush to sign it; at an unemployment office, where he said Mr. Bush should come see the effects of his economic policies; and at the Ramada Inn in Concord, where he told grumpy senior citizens that comprehensive health care for all citizens requires a robust economy to finance it.
Audiences generally like Pat Buchanan, whose charm and sense of humor is in contrast to his often nasty comments.
Richard F. Winters, a Dartmouth College government professor, was in the school auditorium where a packed crowd of 1,200 heard Mr. Buchanan speak recently.
When the candidate referred to the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as an "85-year-old, chain-smoking, Communist dwarf" -- standard line in Mr. Buchanan's attacks on the Bush administration's China policy -- it made him cringe, Mr. Winters said. But he also said that coming from Mr. Buchanan, "it's funny."
"This is somebody who can package repellent ideas in an attractive way," Mr. Winters says, noting that the Dartmouth audience found Mr. Buchanan "not an anti-Semite" but "somebody you think of inviting to dinner."
Allegations that Mr. Buchanan espouses anti-Semitic and racist views have dogged him for years because of some of his columns and television commentary.
Those issues, and others that have prompted some to compare his views with those of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member and also a GOP presidential hopeful, undoubtedly would cause him trouble in states with significant black and Jewish populations, such as Maryland. But they have not surfaced in New Hampshire, where there are few blacks and Jews.
Critics also assail Mr. Buchanan's "America First" campaign slogan, which has both cultural and trade meanings for the candidate.
"When we say we will put America first, we mean also that our Judeo-Christian values are going to be preserved, and our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations and not dumped onto some landfill called multiculturalism," Mr. Buchanan has said.
His main New Hampshire campaign speech focuses on dollars-and-cents issues and on Mr. Bush's 1990 agreement with Congress to raise taxes as part of a multiyear budget agreement.
He calls Mr. Bush to task for not fighting Congress, for trade policies that he says allow nations such as Japan to compete unfairly and for not demanding that Japan and Europe pay for their own defense.
He bristles at Bush administration criticism that he is an isolationist, saying Americans need the money now being spent abroad.