NASHUA, N.H. -- Newt Gingrich's noncampaign campaign trip to New Hampshire is shaping up like a showdown at high noon with President Clinton.
Yesterday, arriving with moose cap in hand, the House speaker proposed that the two leaders meet up in the Granite State tomorrow for a town hall meeting with local citizens and a "dialogue, not a debate."
"You got two guys who like to talk about policy and who like to hang out, and here's a chance to hang out and talk with the whole country watching," Mr. Gingrich told reporters last night.
The speaker, on a four-day swing through the state, was responding to remarks the president made Thursday when asked by a New Hampshire reporter what parts of the state he would show to the speaker.
Mr. Clinton, who is to speak at Dartmouth College in Hanover tomorrow, said he would take Mr. Gingrich to the places he's been in New Hampshire -- including the bowling alley and Dunkin' Donuts -- "and let citizens ask us questions."
At his first stop in Manchester yesterday, Mr. Gingrich said he "accepted" Mr. Clinton's proposal and invited the president to join him in Jackson tomorrow, where the Georgia Republican plans to look for moose and do several TV interviews.
The White House, caught off guard by Mr. Gingrich's serious response to Mr. Clinton's hypothetical remarks, said the president could not make the trip to Jackson but countered with another offer -- an invitation for Mr. Gingrich to join the president later tomorrow for a senior citizens picnic in Claremont.
Mr. Gingrich happened to be speaking at a Nashua hotel where nearly 100 senior citizens and others stood outside protesting GOP proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid.
He said he would agree to the Claremont event -- but only if it could be opened to the whole community and not restricted to those at the senior center who might have only Medicare cuts on their minds.
"We don't have an election on Thursday. This is not a debate," Mr. Gingrich said. "There ain't that much at stake here. If they want to do it, fine, I'm for doing it. I don't want to go into a stacked room. He doesn't want to go into a stacked room. We should be able to find a way to have a simple, open dialogue for a couple of hours."
Asked if he would also take Mr. Clinton up on his suggestion to visit a bowling alley and a Dunkin' Donuts, the Republican said he'd be glad to "hang out" with the president, but added: "I don't know the president's current status, but I hardly need to go to Dunkin' Donuts."