Bush Stumps in New Hampshire
CONWAY, N.H. (AP) _ George W. Bush glad-handed the nation’s first primary voters Saturday, ignoring sweltering heat, a commanding lead in the polls and pundits who say voters aren’t ready in midsummer to pick a president.
In New Hampshire, the Republican front-runner is doing did what activists believe candidates must do to win the first-in-the-nation primary: shake hands, kiss babies, flip hamburgers at cookouts.
He’s also avoiding the miscues that threatened his father’s New Hampshire race in 1988, when the senior George Bush, then vice president, appeared aloof until advisers changed strategies to assure more mix-and-mingle with voters.
``If you are for me, thank you for your vote,″ he told a crowd that greeted him in Conway, a tourist town in the White Mountains. ``If you haven’t made up your mind, give me a good look. If you are for someone else, that’s okay. Don’t work too hard.″
As many as 500 people greeted Bush in Conway, the first of several stops.
``He’s received so much publicity, I wanted to see if there really is a man behind all of the money he’s raised,″ said Paul Hauth, 24. Hauth said he also attended the rally because, although he voted as a Democrat in 1996, ``This last president has made me more conservative.″
Some who attended said they already know Bush has their vote.
``I like the man. I like his father. I adore his mother,″ said Republican Marilyn MacAllister, 68. She said Bush speaks well, seems sincere and is likely to win.
Another Conway 68-year-old, Linda Stetson, said she won’t vote for Bush but came to see him because she thinks he will be the next president.
Bush pushed familiar themes in speaking to the crowd, saying America’s prosperity has to be for everyone.
``The purpose of prosperity is to make sure no one is left behind,″ he said. ``The American dream shines brightly for a lot of us, but too many say, `The dream isn’t for me.‴
Bush waited months before finally visiting New Hampshire last month. He let his popularity build from afar among Republicans hungry to back a winner, then stepped into a limelight envied by his competitors.
The Texas governor can afford to set his own pace. He’s leading by 30 to 40 points in the latest polls and has $37 million in the bank.
His competitors aren’t conceding victory six months before the first vote is cast.
Ari Fleischer, spokesman for Elizabeth Dole, said: ``He has a lead in the second inning in a nine-inning game. He’s got the money. The question is can he go all the way.″
New Hampshire pollster Kelly Myers, with RKM Research and Communication, says candidates must remain visible now even if the public is only half paying attention.
``Voters believe that the candidates have to be accessible,″ agrees fellow New Hampshire pollster Dick Bennett of American Research Group. ``It doesn’t matter if they actually get to see (Bush). They want to know he’s around.″