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Bush Tries To Regain Lost Ground

November 23, 1999

STRATHAM, N.H. (AP) _ Forget holding babies. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush fed a cow and grabbed a lobster as he continued his campaign to convince New Hampshire voters he has what it takes to lead the country.

``Governor, you’re a smash success,″ gushed Jeffrey Swartz, president and chief executive officer of Timberland Co., a footwear company where the Texas governor opened his latest campaign swing through the state on Monday.

But Bush’s success in the Feb. 1 presidential primary is far from sewn up. He leads rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona in national surveys, but recent polls have shown the two essentially tied in New Hampshire.

``He’s making it a competitive race here, I understand that,″ Bush said. ``My job is to show people here I know how to lead.″

More than a third of Bush’s backers in a Los Angeles Times poll Sunday could not give a specific reason for supporting him, compared to just 17 percent of the Arizona senator’s supporters.

That didn’t bother Bush, who said he is working to give people solid reasons to vote for him.

``People make up their minds in all kinds of ways,″ he said. ``I think the people of New Hampshire, the more they know about me, they’ll see I’ve got an optimistic vision for America.″

Bush described that vision at length, offering enthusiastic Timberland employees his stock campaign speech, and answering a few of their questions.

Rob Cartmell asked how Bush would pay for his plan to increase military salaries and improve military housing. Cartmell said his brother is in the Army and has grown frustrated with the low morale.

Bush said his first goal would be a comprehensive review of all military projects to weed out unnecessary spending.

``What needs to happen is we need to have a strategic plan,″ he said.

Bush then reverted to his stump speech, repeating his broad goals for tax reform, Social Security and education.

``I took advantage of your question, didn’t I?″ he said as he wound down a few minutes later. ``I headed into the wild blue yonder.″

Cartmell, 39, said he was satisfied with the answer.

``I think he has an overall strategy for the military,″ he said. ``I’ve just started to follow all this more closely. This is the time when details start to come out.″

A registered independent, Cartmell said he hasn’t decided who to vote for, but is interested in Democrat Bill Bradley.

Later, Bush couldn’t resist replaying a photo opportunity his father, former President Bush, took advantage of during his 1988 campaign. At a party for his supporters given by former New Hampshire House Speaker Doug Scamman, Bush leaned over a fence to feed a cow wearing a ``Bush 2000″ sign.

``This cow eventually will shake my hand,″ he said.

It wasn’t the same cow his father befriended, however.

``I think they ate that one,″ one Bush aide said.

A couple of hours later, he plucked a lobster from a tank at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook and joked that, ``This man looks like he’s ready to cast a vote.″

He got the loudest applause when he expressed support for local control over education and described how he had cut taxes in Texas. Seabrook’s property taxes are going up in New Hampshire’s new statewide property tax to pay for schools.

Barbara DeBenedictif, 65, of Hampton, said she saw McCain a couple of weeks ago and wanted to see Bush so she could compare them.

She was still undecided.

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