MANCHESTER, N.H. -- President Bush formally asked the American people for a second term yesterday, then immediately took aim at all the pretenders to his job in a day of campaigning in New Hampshire.
"I came here to do important work, and I finish what I start," the president told a Washington gathering of 1,500 cheering supporters.
Less than two hours later, he arrived here to convince disillusioned voters to spare his campaign from a potentially embarrassing showing in the nation's first primary.
Mr. Bush wasted no time pointing out the flaws of his opponents.
"Boil away all the tough talk, all the swagger and all the patriotic posturing, and protectionism amounts to nothing more than a smoke screen for a country that's running scared," Mr. Bush said of the "America First" campaign being waged against him by Republican challenger Patrick J. Buchanan.
At both his formal announcement and a speech later in the day before the NewHampshire Legislature, Mr. Bush declared, "Our national symbol isn't the ostrich -- it's the eagle."
Again alluding to Mr. Buchanan, the president attacked "those who didn't support us" on the Persian Gulf war and "those who second-guess us now."
Turning to the field of Democrats competing to carry their party's banner into the November election, Mr. Bush predicted that Americans would not "cast their lot with a lot of fresh faces who tout stale ideas. Voters know the difference between a sound bite and a sound policy."
In more subtle allusions to the allegations of womanizing and draft-dodging that are plaguing Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who until this week led the Democratic pack here, Mr. Bush said voters would decide "which team has the character, the experience and the toughness to make the important decisions."
The president's highly personal announcement speech was also laced with references to his family life.
In an unusual move, first lady Barbara Bush introduced her husband to the 1,500 cheering partisans at a Washington hotel, recalling when she met him "as a straight and handsome teen-ager in Navy flier's uniform."
But the economy was uppermost in voters' minds in Manchester, where the president came to do some hand-to-hand campaigning before the nation's first primary contest Tuesday.
"I can't say enough about how bad it is up here," said Martin Haggerty, an out-of-work accountant who was part of the lunchtime crowd at a Manchester restaurant where Mr. Bush made a quick stop. "I think he should have done something about it sooner."
An independent who backed Mr. Bush in 1988, Mr. Haggerty had intended to cast an anti-Bush vote for Mr. Buchanan in the GOP primary but recently decided to give his vote to Paul E. Tsongas, the new Democratic front-runner.
Bill Lewis, a Democrat who also had voted for Mr. Bush in 1988, said he was still waiting to be convinced this time. "I'm doing OK," said Mr. Lewis, who works for Public Service of New Hampshire, the local utility. "But so many other aren't."
Nearly 1,000 people crammed into the Bedford Mall to see the president walk through and shake hands in the late afternoon. But volunteers from the Bush-Quayle re-election campaign could not persuade the crowd to join in their chants of "Bush-Quayle '92," despite several boisterous attempts.
"I guess this state's got it against Bush," said Jim Saykaly, who was helping his wife out at the mall's Fanny Farmer outlet, where there had been a brief flurry of anticipation that the president might buy a Valentine's Day treat for Mrs. Bush.
Mr. Saykaly, another independent who supported Mr. Bush last time, said he doesn't buy the president's argument that the Democratic Congress was to blame for the sickly economy.
"He's the boss man," he said of the president. "He should be able to do something about it."
The Bush campaign recently decided that the candidate had been too far removed from this critical electorate that seems poised to present him with a protest vote.
Yesterday was only his second personal appearance here in a month, and the first in which he encountered audiences that were not carefully screened in advance. Many more such impromptu stops are planned for this weekend, when Mr.Bush will spend two full days here on the eve of the primary.
"Personal campaigning is the key to success" in New Hampshire, said a senior campaign official, who acknowledged after a month of sending Bush stand-ins that "surrogates don't work."
Sen. Warren B. Rudman, R-N.H., who campaigned with the presidential party yesterday, noted that Mr. Bush's poll ratings among potential GOP voters have fluctuated somewhere between 50 percent and 60 percent. Though he called this volatility disturbing, Mr. Rudman said he expected a "big bump" upward now that the president had come in person.
Mr. Bush's appearance made a difference for Beverly Morse, a staunch Republican who had considered not voting for the first time in her life because of her disappointment in the president.
"He spent so much time on foreign policy, he let the country go to hell in a handbasket," she said. "But now that I see him -- he looked so good, so healthy, so tall and handsome -- I'm voting for him. Maybe he'll do better."
The president repeated his vow to do better yesterday and once again challenged Congress to meet his March 20 deadline for enacting an economic stimulus package.
"They say the deadline is arbitrary. They say the deadline is too early. They say the deadline is unfair," Mr. Bush told the New Hampshire legislators.
"I say the deadline is March 20 and we're going to hold their feet to the fire."
George Herbert Walker Bush
Born: June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., to Dorothy and Prescott S. Bush, a one-time U.S. senator from Connecticut. Second of five children.
Grew up: in Greenwich, Connecticut, but spent summers at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Me., where he still makes his vacation home. Educated in private schools, including Greenwich Country Day school, Phillips Academy in Andover, and Yale University, B.A. 1948. Joined the Navy in 1942 during World War II. A fighter pilot, he was shot down in the Pacific in 1944 but escaped without serious injury.
Personal: Married Barbara Pierce, 1945. Five children, George W., 45, Jeb, 38, Neil, 36, Marvin, 35, and Dorothy (Doro), 32. A multi-sport athlete and exercise enthusiast with a vigorous lifestyle.
Where he's been: Settled in Midland, Texas, in 1948 and launched oil exploration business. Republican congressman from Houston, Texas, 1967-1971; United Nations ambassador 1971-1973; Republican National Committee chairman, 1973-74; U.S. envoy to China, 1974-1975; CIA director, 1976-1977; vice president, 1981-1988; president, 1989 topresent.
Selling Points: By far the most experienced and knowledgeable of the candidates. Background and expertise in foreign affairs particularly strong. Generally praised for handling of Persian Gulf war and fall of the Soviet empire, and for initiating Middle East peace talks.
Vulnerabilities: Has presided over the longest recession since World War II. Criticized for lack of interest in domestic problems and not much vision in shaping solutions. Two collapses in past year have raised questions about health, though neither ailment proved serious.
Where he stands: Recently proposed an economic growth plan intended to provide short-term stimulus through targeted tax breaks and investment incentives. Says a broader tax cut for the middle class won't work because it would add significantly to an already swollen budget deficit. Also offered a health proposal that provides vouchers and tax credits to help the poor and working poor buy health insurance, but would preserve the private health care system.
Sound bite: "Let's take a message and send it to the United States Congress to get something done. That's where the message should be sent."
Forecast: Still heavily favored for re-election, he faces a potentially damaging protest vote in the New Hampshire primary.