WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is appealing for bipartisan support for solving the nation's economic crisis but attacking ''carping little liberal Democrats'' for using him as ''a punching bag.''

The president said his Jan. 28 address to a joint session of Congress would offer his prescription to ''turn a sick economy into a well economy.''

In his first campaign trip to New Hampshire, Bush gave his most pessimistic assessment of the economy yet and said, ''I've known the economy is in free fall. I hope I've known it. Maybe I haven't conveyed it as well as I should.''

Bush's spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, today backed off the phrase ''free fall.'' ''That's not a technical description. However, we all know the economy is flat and sluggish,'' he said.

''American people deserve that politics be put aside right after that State of the Union message,'' Bush told a Rotary Club dinner last night as he wrapped up a full day of campaigning in southern New Hampshire.

It seems politics will be anywhere but put aside.

The president's first campaign trip to New Hampshire triggered a new round of criticism from Democratic candidates and his main Republican challenger, Patrick Buchanan.

And the Democratic candidates began to take hits themselves, from a conservation group that assessed their stands on the environment and the Arkansas AFL-CIO, which said Gov. Bill Clinton was not deserving of strong labor support.

Clinton himself airs a new campaign ad today in which he subtly raps his main rivals, Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Tom Harkin of Iowa, for supporting a Senate pay raise.

Bush pledged to a domestic effort to end the recession similar to the international effort that a year ago ended the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

But then he came out swinging, attacking Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, with whom he'll have to work on a budget agreement, in remarks to workers at a computer software company in New Hampshire.

If Mitchell's approval to send U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf had been required, 'Saddam Hussein would be in Saudi Arabia and gasoline would cost $20 a gallon,'' Bush said.

He then complained about what he called ''carping little liberal Democrats jumping all over my you know what.''

Then, in his Rotary Club speech, Bush told his audience: ''I'm sick and tired of being a punching bag for a lot of lightweights yelling at me day in and day out.

''I'm sick of it. They want a fight, they're going to have one.''

Bush told his audience, however, that it's an election year and ''all kinds of weird dances are going on out there.''

Elsewhere in the campaign:

- A national survey showed 41 percent believe Democrats will do a better job of handling the economy while 32 percent favor Republicans. Three out of four said Bush should be doing more to turn the economy around. The poll of 1,220 adults by the Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

- The Arkansas AFL-CIO distributed a report to labor federations in key primary states criticizing Clinton's labor record, saying he touted the state's right-to-work law, ignored workers compensation issues and helped a ''union-busting'' company in one case. Clinton responded that he has a record of saving jobs, even if it meant giving tax breaks to companies.

- The League of Conservation Voters said Clinton and Kerrey have shortcomings in their environmental records. The league praised former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas and Harkin and said former California Gov. Jerry Brown was ''ahead of his time.''

- Clinton debuts a new television ad today in which he subtly raps Kerrey and Harkin for supporting the Senate pay raise. Clinton positioned himself as an outsider who would ''put government back on the side of the people for a change.''

- Tsongas said Bush owed New Hampshire thanks for giving him his first major victory in 1988, but ''now we see the kind of thanks that New Hampshire has gotten,'' he said, listing the state's litany of economic woes.

- While Bush visited successful plants, Buchanan visited a busy unemployment office and challenged the president to meet the ''economic casualties of Bushanomics.''

Bush met with community leaders in an airfield hangar, spoke at a town hall meeting in Exeter and visited three local businesses, having a lunch of pizza and chili with workers at one of the plants.

''Listen, here's the final word. Vote for me ... don't vote for them,'' he told employes at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. in Dover.

Although Bush didn't mention Buchanan by name, he ridiculed his GOP opponent's ''America First'' slogan at nearly every stop as a ''siren's call to protectionism.''

While Bush aides privately say they are concerned about recent polls showing Bush losing some ground to Buchanan, campaign manager Bob Teeter sought to minimize their significance.

''I have terrific confidence in the voters,'' Teeter said. He said most polls show Buchanan's strength at just under 20 percent.

''We don't have to turn it around, we just have to keep it where it is,'' Teeter said.

Bush likely will visit New Hampshire two more times before the primary, Teeter said.

He also said that is seems probable that Bush will formally announce his candidacy in early February, then set out on a relatively short campaign blitz.