Concord, N.H.--With less than nine months remaining before the New Hampshire primary and only one official residential candidate, state political here are very busy. Busy stuffing envelopes. Busy taking trans-Atlantic vacations. Busy doing everything, it seems, but politicking.
The site of the nation's first primary, New Hampshire is usually knee-deep in over-anxious candidates and mud-slinging political rhetoric by this point in a pre-primary year.
But compared to the 1988 primary season, this year's pre-election posturing has been extremely quiet.
So quiet, in fact, that half the staff of the Republican State Committee's office in Concord took last week off to vacation in Europe.
So quiet that a handful of state representatives were found on a weekday afternoon, not furiously campaigning, but leisurely stuffing envelopes alongside party workers at the state Democratic headquarters here in Concord.
"There's no question that 1987 was much more active than this year," says James W. Donchess, the mayor of Nashua. "We're almost two years beyond when people in the past had become active, if not official, candidates."
"It is kind of unusual that nothing much has been going on yet, but Bush is a tough act to follow," says Joan Lax, a resident of Bow, N.H. "Until the Democrats can get some grass-roots issues to follow, nobody's going to pay attention to them."
But while Republican leaders attribute the dearth of political campaigning to the popular perception that President Bush will prove virtually unbeatable in next year's election, Democrats around the state counter that there is still plenty of time for candidates to leap onto the national scene.
"Our strength depends on our organization, fundraising and clear communication to the public," says Russel Verney, the state Democratic party's executive director. "That certainly doesn't take one-and-a-half years. We're going to focus on domestic issues such as the economy, because as every day passes, the attention is coming back to the business of handling America."
State Rep. Ricky A. Trombly, the assistant minority leader, says he welcomes this year's abbreviated approach because the drawn-out campaigns from recent years have proven exhausting and unnecessary.
"It's somewhat of a relief this time around not to have everyone banging on your door two years in advance asking for your vote," Trombly says. "Anyways, most of the good potential candidates are busy fixing problems caused by Bush--they don't have time to run a campaign right now."
Many citizens share Trombly's distaste for prolonged election races, including New London residents Robert and Gusta Teach.
"The elections get so dirty they make me want to take up cross-stitching instead of watching the tube," says Gusta. "It's so overshadowed by mudslinging that it turns people away from voting. All of that extra campaigning takes the focus away from the issues."
But staking out key issues won't help the Democrats if they can't find a viable candidate to field.
Only one, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, has offically entered the race. Tsongas announced his candidacy in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Iowa on April 30.