4th of July causes parade of GOP candidates in N.H.


DUNBARTON, N.H. -- Jean Dimock caught up with Sen. Phil Gramm near the stand selling "Clinocchio" T-shirts.

"You're going to keep your pro-life stand?" she asked. The Texas Republican assured her he would.

"You're going to stick with the Republican platform?" she continued. Mr. Gramm once again assured her he would.

That done, Ms. Dimock peered around the crowd for another presidential candidate to buttonhole. Asked if she had decided whom to back, she shook her head as if in horror. She still had to talk to several of them, she said, and then study their voting records. "I'm still thinking and evaluating," she said.

While most Americans spent Tuesday exercising their constitutional right to overindulge, a few hundred conservative Republicans gathered on a Dunbarton farm to put the party's presidential hopefuls through the paces.

The occasion was the Conservative Party Victory Fund's annual pig roast -- its slogan: "A liberal piece of pork at a conservative price!" -- and for candidates who hope to capture the party's right wing, it was clearly a command performance.

Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas showed up, accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth. Mr. Gramm and his wife, Wendy, not only showed up, they hung around -- even, it seemed, after most of the crowd had lost interest.

Columnist Patrick J. Buchanan was there, and so was Rep. Robert K. Dornan of California and Alan L. Keyes, a Maryland radio talk show host. Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana sent his wife, Charlene.

Even in New Hampshire, where presidential politics is a sort of statewide pastime, most voters are not yet paying attention to the 1996 election. But the candidates have been trooping to New Hampshire for months to win the hearts of Republican "activists," the ones who put up signs, assemble phone trees and eventually participate in get-out-the-vote efforts.

At the pig roast, many were already festooned with stickers and buttons for the candidates of their choice. But others said they were still undecided, and it is this group that candidates will suffer endless trips to the Manchester airport to woo.

Linda Orr of Bedford is the kind of activist any candidate would love to call his own. She carries around photographs of the candidates she has met, and said that once she decided whom to back, she would devote herself to him utterly.

Ms. Dimock also said she would campaign hard for whichever candidate she eventually chooses. "When I make a decision, I will definitely support them 100 percent," she said.

Before each New Hampshire primary, some new issues emerge that are of intense interest to the people in this state, and to the presidential candidates, but are of little interest to anyone else. Yesterday's picnic provided a preview of these issues.

One is efforts by lawmakers in Delaware to advance their state's primary to Feb. 24, just four days after New Hampshire's. New Hampshire has always maintained that any primary held less than seven days after its own is a violation of interstate ethics.

To illustrate what many in New Hampshire feel is an insufficient commitment by Mr. Gramm to the seven-day rule, a protester dressed as a blue hen showed up, shouting: "Delaware first in the nation. Senator Gramm for president."

The protester refused to give his name. But to make sure the hen -- the University of Delaware's symbol -- did not make the evening news, Gramm supporters surrounded him with "Gramm for president" signs.

Another issue that looms large in this state, and almost nowhere else, is Goals 2000, a federal education program. New Hampshire has refused to apply for the $9 million the state is eligible for under the program, arguing that the program would interfere too much in the local curriculum. Only one other state, Virginia, has rejected the money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Goals 2000 was the first issue Mr. Dole addressed in his remarks yesterday. Equally unsurprising was Mr. Dole's praise for New Hampshire's decision. "First let me thank the governor and the state Legislature for rejecting Goals 2000," he said. "It was a bad idea when I voted against it in the Senate, and it's a worse idea now."

In their remarks, all the candidates stressed their conservative bona fides, emphasizing issues like lower taxes and the return of decision-making authority to local governments and families.

Many in the crowd interpreted the absence of more centrist candidates like Gov. Pete Wilson of California and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as a sign that they felt they could not compete against the fiery right rhetoric of candidates like Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Dornan.

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