CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ When it comes to running for president, even tinkering with history is not too much to ask in the earliest primary state.

Four months before New Hampshire plays host to the nation's first primary, GOP candidates are turning out en masse Thursday for a party celebrating the founding of the Republican Party in Exeter, N.H., on Oct. 12, 1853.

Never mind that the Republican National Committee recognizes Ripon, Wis., as the birthplace of the party on March 20, 1854. Or that Jackson, Mich., also stakes a claim to the GOP birthright.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole firmly cast his lot with New Hampshire when he chose Exeter as a stop on his campaign announcement tour in April.

``I've always felt at home here in New Hampshire,'' he said then. ``Maybe because it's always been and always will remain the first presidential primary in the nation, or maybe because New Hampshire is the birthplace of the Republican Party.''

Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas wasn't sure he could make it to Thursday's birthday party so he pumped out a statement this week offering that ``there's no doubt in my mind that the birthplace of the Republican Party is New Hampshire.''

Other candidates will bolster the state's claim by their attendance at the Amos Tuck Society's birthday celebration, although some have been less than definitive.

``Certainly the meeting in Exeter was an important event,'' said James McKay, a spokesman for Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. ``Whether it was the defining moment of the birthplace, that is for other people to decide.''

Exeter's bid for the GOP birthright is sharply resisted by the people of Ripon, a town of 7,300 that relies on its claim to attract about 8,500 tourists a year. Local officials stress that Ripon is recognized by both the national party and the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

As for Exeter's birthday party, ``it's an empty celebration,'' said Brian Christianson, executive director of the Wisconsin GOP.

Former New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gregg has been leading the charge to get Exeter recognized.

According to Gregg's research, abolitionist Amos Tuck and others met in Exeter in 1853 and agreed to unite under the principles of Thomas Jefferson, with Tuck suggesting ``Republican'' as the name for the party.

Gregg said he never realized there was a controversy until he read in Theodore White's book, ``The Making of the President,'' that historians disagree whether the party's birthplace is in Ripon, Exeter or Jackson.

William Safire sides with Michigan in his ``New Political Dictionary,'' stating that the party was organized at Jackson in 1854.