Buchanan courts voters whoe feel jilted by Bush

MANCHESTER, N.H. — MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Smooth-talking Pat Buchanan is enjoying a whirlwind affair with New Hampshire Republicans, who are eager for a little romance after three years of marriage to George Bush.

Mr. Buchanan woos them with barbed criticism of tax increases, "quota" bills, federal spending and foreign aid -- sweet words to Republicans who feel unaided in the recession and betrayed by a leader who they believe is sleeping with Democrats.


"When he announced his candidacy, I was absolutely delighted," says lifelong Republican Vern Townsend, attending a Rotary Club luncheon in Concord where Mr. Buchanan spoke this week. "Finally, we've got somebody who can talk on the level of a middle-class person."

Mr. Townsend, who works for an aerospace company and voted for Mr. Bush in 1988, says he will "definitely" vote for Mr. Buchanan in the primary Feb. 18 "unless something changes dramatically between now and six weeks from now."


His reaction is typical of many Buchanan supporters, but even though polls show widespread dissatisfaction with President Bush, it has not yet translated into widespread defections from the president.

In a poll of GOP voters in New Hampshire by the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV, 56 percent said they would vote for Mr. Bush and 21 percent for Mr. Buchanan.

The candidate himself is cautious.

"There's a tremendous wellspring of support for me, and I think a lot of folks are delighted I'm making this challenge," says Mr. Buchanan. "But do they see me as a potential president now? That's something I don't know. Some do, but how many I don't know."

Candidates rarely express such doubts publicly. But Mr. Buchanan is in some ways the unlikeliest of candidates, particularly given that he is running against the Washington political establishment.

Patrick J. Buchanan is a native of Washington, D.C., and a media celebrity there today. Although he worked for Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan in the White House, where he honed the writing and speaking skills that have made him a wealthy commentator and columnist, he has never held office.

"What has Pat Buchanan done to become president of the

United States"? asks Bush ally Thomas D. Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general.


But the question never came up as Mr. Buchanan made campaign stops this week at the New Hampshire Capitol in Concord, where he signed a no-taxes pledge and dared President Bush to sign it; at an unemployment office, where he said Mr. Bush should come see the effects of his economic policies; and at the Ramada Inn in Concord, where he told grumpy senior citizens that comprehensive health care for all citizens requires a robust economy to finance it.

Audiences generally like Pat Buchanan, whose charm and sense of humor is in contrast to his often nasty comments.

Richard F. Winters, a Dartmouth College government professor, was in the school auditorium where a packed crowd of 1,200 heard Mr. Buchanan speak recently.

When the candidate referred to the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as an "85-year-old, chain-smoking, Communist dwarf" -- standard line in Mr. Buchanan's attacks on the Bush administration's China policy -- it made him cringe, Mr. Winters said. But he also said that coming from Mr. Buchanan, "it's funny."

"This is somebody who can package repellent ideas in an attractive way," Mr. Winters says, noting that the Dartmouth audience found Mr. Buchanan "not an anti-Semite" but "somebody you think of inviting to dinner."

Allegations that Mr. Buchanan espouses anti-Semitic and racist views have dogged him for years because of some of his columns and television commentary.


Those issues, and others that have prompted some to compare his views with those of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member and also a GOP presidential hopeful, undoubtedly would cause him trouble in states with significant black and Jewish populations, such as Maryland. But they have not surfaced in New Hampshire, where there are few blacks and Jews.

Critics also assail Mr. Buchanan's "America First" campaign slogan, which has both cultural and trade meanings for the candidate.

"When we say we will put America first, we mean also that our Judeo-Christian values are going to be preserved, and our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations and not dumped onto some landfill called multiculturalism," Mr. Buchanan has said.

His main New Hampshire campaign speech focuses on dollars-and-cents issues and on Mr. Bush's 1990 agreement with Congress to raise taxes as part of a multiyear budget agreement.

He calls Mr. Bush to task for not fighting Congress, for trade policies that he says allow nations such as Japan to compete unfairly and for not demanding that Japan and Europe pay for their own defense.

He bristles at Bush administration criticism that he is an isolationist, saying Americans need the money now being spent abroad.


Mr. Bush, he says, "went down to Washington and became the biggest spender in American history on social programs, the biggest taxer in American history, and he has run three of the four largest deficits in American history."

His words ring true to many Republicans.

"I like his approach, which has been branded protectionism," says Charles Wetmore, a Manchester funeral director. "Global economy and the management of it is very important, but I think you have to take a much closer look at things at home."

Although audiences are usually friendly, the lack of specificity in Mr. Buchanan's ideas has raised questions. For example, he advocates budget and tax cuts but supports construction of a costly space-based defense system.

Mr. Buchanan encountered heavy fire at a meeting of the American Association of Retired Persons in Concord.

He said Democratic proposals requiring businesses to provide health insurance or pay a premium to the government are too costly. And he dismissed national health programs such as those in Canada and Britain as bureaucratic nightmares that don't provide the quality of care available in the United States.


But when he offered his own vague idea of tax credits to help people pay for insurance and care, 62-year-old Alice Griffin stood up.

"Your comments on health care were nothing but the highest platitudes," she said, prompting scattered applause.

The politically hot issue clearly is an awkward one for Mr. Buchanan, who, while railing against "entitlement" programs such as welfare, nevertheless makes an exception for health care.

The United States, he says, "should not let any American lack medical care simply because he or she lacks resources or support."

Mr. Buchanan's desire to curry favor among the large and politically sophisticated senior citizen population is a sign of how far his campaign has come in several weeks.

Even Bush supporters agree he has been an effective candidate who, while lacking money, has received extensive news coverage and the aggressive support of the state's largest newspaper, the ultraconservative Manchester Union Leader.


Gov. Judd Gregg, who heads the Bush campaign in New Hampshire and thinks the president will prevail, is wary of predictions about an electorate that he says hasn't made up its mind.

"I call it the 'X' factor," he says. "People who have been through this tough economy may wish to express their views on Feb. 18."

Mr. Buchanan thinks his battle is all uphill, especially after Mr. Bush's campaign trip to New Hampshire last week.

"It's Mr. Bush's turn at bat; we're now in the second half, and he's going to get the ball," he says. "We kick off to him. So he's probably a bit stronger today than he was two days ago, and he's just begun to deploy his enormous forces and resources."

Mr. Buchanan says he has no regrets about having given up the pundit's life, if only temporarily.

"There's always been a part of you that wanted to be a candidate. But there's always been a part of you that says, 'I'm not going to get into that.' This perch is very comfortable," he says of his journalistic role.


"And when you get out here, and you're alone out here, it's exhilarating, but it's also exhausting. . . . I think I did the right thing."