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In New Hampshire, No Stumping, Just Stuffing

Countdown to '92: Looking to New Hampshire First in a three-part series

By Mary LOUISE Kelly and Jonathan Samuels, Special to The Crimsons

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.

And most people, Republicans and Democrats alike, don't think the Lowell, Mass. resident has the slightest chance of winning his party's nomination. But in the absence of strong candidates, some say, Tsongas might yet prove to be a viable candidate.

Paula Smith, the conference co-ordinator at the Manchester campus of the University of New Hampshire, where Tsongas announced his candidacy, says that the candidate was not received that well.

"People agreed with his ideas, but they didn't look at him to be a serious contender," Smith says. "Dukakis spoke here four years ago, and he was thought of as a much more serious contender."

And although the gossip mills are churning about who will jump in next, the rest of the Democratic field remains wide-open.

Much speculation has centered on Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who has not personally visited New Hampshire this year but sent "political operatives" to scout out the state approximately one month ago, according to Mark Warner, the treasurer for Wilder's exploratory committee.

"He's also weighing his personal life and his ability to continue serving adequately in Virginia," Warner says.

Another likely candidate is Sen. Albert Gore Jr. '69 (D-Tenn.), who "keeps in touch," says Joseph Grandmaison, a former state party chair and the 1990 Democratic nominee for governor.

And several party insiders say that Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia may also decide to try his luck in the primary, although such a run might only lay the groundwork for a vice-presidential nomination or a '96 run for president.

And despite denials from his office of any intent to run, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo is also considered likely to make a bid for the White House in 1992.

Cuomo has sent representatives to call on Democratic state chair Chris Spiro, but has not himself visited New Hampshire recently, says Republican assistant state chair Kendall W. Lane.

"[Cuomo] is traveling across the country speaking right now," says Steve Edwards, Gov. Judd A. Gregg's deputy chief of staff. "He's not going to come to New Hampshire--that would just lead to too much speculation."

But Cuomo spokesperson Terry Lynam says the governor's speaking engagements are nothing out of the ordinary, and that he has "no plans to run for the presidency, and no plans to make plans. He has made these trips around the country for eight years after completing the state budget. As governor, he thinks it is important to speak on the national level when national issues are at hand," Lynam says.

Other possible candidates include Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Sen. Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who popped in for a surprise visit in Gov. Gregg's office at the state house.

Two-tier Theory

Grandmaison has developed his own home-spun theory for predicting exactly when potential Democratic candidates will choose to jump in.

Grandmaison separates the pool into two separate tiers--a first tier of candidates such as Gore and Cuomo, who may have serious expectations in the election, and a second group composed of aspirants such as Rockefeller, Kerrey and Clinton, who are probably only aiming to lay the groundwork for a 1996 run.

"My own guess is that as soon as one of those [second-tier] people enter, that will cause the first tier of candidates to either shit or get off the pot," Grandmaison says

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