Bush takes 11th-hour swipe at Buchanan in N.H.

February 17, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Staff Writer

HOLLIS, N.H. -- In a closing appeal for New Hampshire support, President Bush urged Republicans yesterday to reject TV commentator Patrick J. Buchanan's protest candidacy and cast a "serious" vote in tomorrow's primary.

Mr. Bush's personal campaign ended in New Hampshire the same way it began: with jabs and counterpunches at Mr. Buchanan but nary a mention of his name.

At a breakfast in Nashua, N.H., Mr. Bush tried to appeal to this state's enormous pride in its political influence, telling supporters: "You make serious choices here, and you don't elect the loudest and the biggest protesters."

Mr. Bush, who made three campaign trips to the state over the past month, said voters "ought to look at the whole record" before making up their minds.

"We're not in this for messages," he said, in another dig at his Republican rival. "We're in here to see who should be chosen to be president and accept the full responsibilities of that job."

Mr. Buchanan says a big vote for him would send a signal of discontent to the White House over the administration's economic policies.

Many Republicans who plan to support Mr. Bush in the fall have said they'll vote against him tomorrow as a way of registering their unhappiness over their state's bleak business climate.

"I want him to wake up. Wake up," said Louise Simmons, a police officer in Amherst, N.H., who was on hand to hear Mr. Bush in New Boston, N.H., over the weekend.

Although the president was warmly received at two campaign stops in the southern part of the state yesterday, his strategists acknowledge that his support in New Hampshire lacks intensity, and their biggest worry is that some of his voters simply will stay home Election Day.

At several campaign events Saturday, the crowds were more excited to see film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who accompanied Mr. Bush, than the president himself.

Some local Republicans predict Mr. Buchanan could draw as much as 40 percent of the primary vote, although most polls show him hovering around 30 percent.

Robert Teeter, Mr. Bush's campaign manager, said he finds "no evidence we are in trouble here." Other Bush campaign aides are confidently projecting at least a 2-to-1 victory.

The president himself said he hopes to carry the state "substantially" in tomorrow's balloting.

But his aides clearly are worried about the spin the political world will put on the returns, particularly in light of the president's enormous popularity after the Persian Gulf war and the fact his opponent in New Hampshire is a political novice.

"It's the only campaign I've ever been in where being 25 points ahead was like being behind," said Mr. Teeter, who also is the president's pollster.

Unlike four years ago, when Mr. Bush fought his way to a primary victory with an 11th-hour negative assault on Sen. Robert J. Dole, the president's advisers decided, after some internal debate, to forgo attack ads this time.

"I have tried to stay above the fray in terms of all the negative campaigning that this state has been subjected to, much of it aimed towards me," the president told the breakfast crowd.

But those who watched Mr. Bush during his two-day swing through the state saw a campaigner seemingly determined to counterattack at every turn.

Without mentioning either Mr. Buchanan or his Democratic opponents by name, Mr. Bush portrayed himself as the victim of their relentless attempts to "trash" his candidacy.

Mr. Bush struck back repeatedly at his rivals for allegedly lying about his proposals and not having "a clue" about how to stimulate the economy.

During a question-and-answer session with voters in Hollis, N.H., Mr. Bush's voice rose sharply as he attacked as "crazy" those who are advocating deeper cuts in military spending now that the Cold War has ended.

In subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, shots aimed at Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Bush criticized "some" who are pushing protectionism, terming it "a sorry, negative approach," and "some" who would have prevented him from using military force against Iraq. (Mr. Buchanan opposed the war).

Mr. Bush also spoke out against anti-Semitism, and underscored the point by dropping by a social event at a Manchester, N.H., synagogue Saturday night. Critics have branded Mr. Buchanan an anti-Semite, a charge he denies.

In an unusually personal soliloquy near the close of the trip, the president seemed almost to be giving himself a pep talk as he stood on a stage in the Hollis-Brookline High School gym, surrounded by several hundred New Hampshire residents.

"Don't let the critics get you down," Mr. Bush said, in what he had said would be a word of advice to young people.

"Work your hardest for what you believe in. And that's what I'm trying to do. . . . I've had to make tough decisions. Good God, a year ago, . . . it wasn't an easy decision to commit some of your neighbors here to war.

"But you have to do your best. You gotta take the shots that come your way and say, 'Hey, that goes with the territory.'

"So," he concluded, as nervous aides signaled him to leave the stage, "don't let the pessimists get you down."

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