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Presidential Hopeful Tapping Voter Disillusionment

November 20, 1991

NEW LONDON, N.H. (AP) _ Retired teacher David Cronin has voted Democratic all his life, but lately had been feeling let down by both parties - until he met former California Gov. Jerry Brown.

″He talks about grass-roots vs. big investors. I’m going to back him because of his ideals,″ said Cronin, 68.

Brown is the perfect candidate for Cronin, who has felt increasingly alienated from the political process and the big money behind it.

Forget partisan distinction. Brown is running against ″the system,″ not Democrats or Republicans. He’s limiting campaign contributions to $100 a person.

″Most of the time (politicians are) just raising money from a fraction of the people to buy campaigns to stay in power to keep doing the same things,″ Brown told Colby-Sawyer College students last week during his first campaign visit to the nation’s earliest primary state.

It’s the kind of language many voters love to hear, but there’s a comfortable buffer protecting Brown’s rivals from his diatribe. Nicknamed ″Governor Moonbeam″ and labeled everything from futurist to flake, Brown has an image problem.

″He’s too much of a dreamer. His ideas are a little too far out,″ said Walter Plumer, 51, of Durham, remembering Brown’s second run for the presidential nomination in 1980.

The image recurred Friday night at a political roast in Bedford that drew the five major presidential hopefuls.

As Brown told more than 500 state Democrats they constituted ″a greater political mass,″ some in the audience exchanged knowing looks.

″Here he goes,″ groaned one, fearing a philosophical tangent.

Brown, a two-term governor who once dated singer Linda Ronstadt, left politics after a failed 1982 U.S. Senate bid. He studied Zen Buddhism in Japan and helped Mother Theresa before resurfacing in 1989 as head of California’s Democratic Party.

Some say his reputation as unconventional could be a plus.

″I think he has potential,″ said Joseph Grandmaison, a New Hampshire Democrat involved in primary politics for 20 years. ″When he says the system is absolutely corrupt, the vast majority of the electorate is in agreement.″

But Grandmaison said New Hampshire voters smarting from the recession need specific solutions, not a ″referendum that politics should be cleaned up.″

In New Hampshire, Brown appealed to an electorate that has ″seceded from American politics,″ and told voters they don’t matter to most politicians because they’re not where the money is.

Alternative energy research and universal health insurance, he said, ″will never happen as long as the Congress is collecting tens of millions of dollars from the medical insurance industry″ and the oil and automobile industries.

″He didn’t have to win me over. He said everything I walk around saying,″ said college senior Adrian Barbee of New London after handing Brown her resume and asking for a job.

Gregg Carville, 18, of Portland, Maine, who worked on the Bush campaign in 1988, said he found Brown intelligent and, to a degree, realistic.

″I agree there’s a lot of problems in the political structure,″ he said. ″Unfortunately, I think he’s too radical.″

″He’s definitely an iconoclast - and I like that,″ countered Cronin, who heard Brown speak in Franklin. ″They used to call him weird. That’s when he was working for the environment. Now everybody’s doing it.″

Cronin said he planned to work for Brown in New Hampshire.

″It’s not a question of Republicans or Democrats - it’s a question of the haves and the have nots. And as long as the haves are having, they’re happy,″ Cronin said.

That was what Brown tried to impress at the small liberal arts college, fixing his intent gaze on their largely unruffled faces.

″My campaign is an insurgent campaign. First I’ve got to get you to insurge though,″ he said. ″I’m not quite sure whether that’s happening yet. You look a little too happy.″