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Democrats Looking For A Winner

October 30, 1991

PLYMOUTH, N.H. (AP) _ Joseph Miller has had it with backing losers.

He supported Bruce Babbitt for president in 1988 despite being ″fairly confident″ the former Arizona governor stood no chance of getting elected.

This time, Miller says, ″I could yield a little bit on some of these issues if I became convinced the candidate was electable.″

Kate Newell-Coupe also is getting more pragmatic. She supported Babbitt and then Jesse Jackson in 1988. But Jackson would not be her choice this time around.

″We’ve got to stop reaching for ideals, and I think he was maybe a little too idealistic,″ says Newell-Coupe.

Both residents have yet to settle on a presidential candidate for 1992 - a common lot among New Hampshire Democrats this year.

Four months before the Feb. 18 primary, party leaders say an unusually large number of Democrats appear to be undecided.

Most of the candidates started late, and two of the six major Democrats - Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and former California Gov. Jerry Brown - have campaigned here little or not at all.

Those who do come find intense interest in what they would do about the economy. They also discover Democratic voters anxious to pick a winner.

New Hampshire’s economy boomed in the years before the 1988 primary, helping to propel Michael Dukakis, governor of neighboring Massachusetts, to a convincing victory. Now, both the state and region are depressed.

Small manufacturers continue to fold or lay off workers, real estate prices keep falling, and the once-booming, high-tech sector remains on the ropes.

Newell-Coupe, who teaches at Plymouth State College and helps people arrange child care, voices an urgency fed by daily exposure to the casualties of the state’s battered economy.

″I’m really tired of this attitude that the recession is over, because I’m on the service end of it and I see that it’s not,″ she says.

It’s not just the poor, she adds. ″It’s the hard-working, middle-class person who can’t keep up with it.″

Twenty miles south of Plymouth, in the small city of Franklin, Mayor Brenda Elias talks about the need for candidates to be good on issues, but speaks only of one: ″first and foremost, the economy.″

″There’s a fear out there, great fear,″ she says.

Elias plans to remain uncommitted until the party picks a candidate, the better to play host to visiting candidates. Already she has shown around Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey.

Miller, a consultant on workplace health and safety, said he met Clinton years ago and didn’t think him presidential material, but that impression ″could be changed″ if the governor proves himself as the campaign unfolds.

For now, he says he leans toward Harkin on the issues, but could end up backing Kerrey.

″I’m sick and tired of losing and he’s been touted by some as maybe the modern-day Jack Kennedy,″ he says of Kerrey.

Newell-Coupe is interested in Kerrey, too, partly because of his call for affordable, accessible health care.

Harkin won a number of admirers in recent visits to the state with his proposals for tax reform to help the middle class and programs to assist struggling small businesses.

″He was just a regular guy,″ said George Turcott, the boss of a Franklin public works crew that Harkin joined for a day’s work last week.

The longest-toiling major candidate, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, appears to have gained little for his efforts, partly because he is considered an uninspiring speaker. Tsongas also suffers from comparisons with Dukakis, another liberal of Greek origin from Massachusetts.

New Hampshire’s role in the presidential sweepstakes is being magnified this time around as candidates spend less time in Iowa due to Harkin’s home- state advantage there.

The New Hampshire political picture is sure to clear up as the campaign intensifies in coming days and weeks, with most of the field converging on the state this weekend for the state Democratic convention.

Voters appear ready to start making choices.

″I really am going to try to dive into it and make some hard decisions,″ says Newell-Coupe. ″This is an election that is very crucial because we’re going under fast.″

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