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In N.H., candidates plow on

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2000


HUDSON, N.H. -- Finally, something unpredictable after the predictable Iowa caucuses.

The first major snowstorm to hit the first-primary state this year kept many reporters and campaign workers from getting here Tuesday. The Manchester airport was deserted Tuesday afternoon as flights were canceled.

Schools closed early. The nor'easter, which dumped 7 to 12 inches on New Hampshire, even bumped presidential politics as the top story on WMUR's evening news in Manchester.

The weather forced Republican Orrin Hatch to wait until today to hold a news conference, presumably to withdraw from the race. Alan Keyes was stuck in Detroit. The presidential candidates who arrived from Iowa before dawn beat the snow and plowed ahead.

As the campaign moved overnight from the Midwest to New England, it turned out Al Gore has more advantages over Bill Bradley than were initially apparent.

First, Gore easily beat Bradley on Monday in Iowa, 65 percent to 35 percent. Then he beat him out of town. Bradley's 727 charter was forced to wait for Air Force Two to fly out of the Des Moines airport.

By the time Bradley landed in Manchester at 3:25 a.m., Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush had finished their pre-dawn victory celebrations and were gone. A boisterous crowd of college students and a band, jammed inside a small terminal to avoid the 14-degree weather, greeted Bradley like a winner.

"Bill Bradley is the most uncorruptible politician I have ever met in my life," retiring Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey told the cheering students. "He will not be corrupted by money. He will not be corrupted by opinion polls. He will not be corrupted by politics."

And he will not be the Democratic nominee if he does not fare better in New Hampshire.

Bradley is a hard read.

In the Hotel Fort Des Moines after the results were clear Monday night, his words were positive but he sounded discouraged.

An hour or so later, Bradley sat in the back of his plane with reporters. With his glasses sliding down his nose, the man so often described as laconic and aloof carefully cut slivers of a macadamia nut pie and handed them out.

After a few hours of sleep, Bradley and his supporters headed into the snowstorm with a harder edge.

In the Alvirne High School gym, Bradley and his supporters used a sharper tone to distinguish between the former New Jersey senator and the vice president.

Cornell West, an African-American Studies professor at Harvard, talked of "something new and novel" -- a candidate who tells the truth. Kerrey, oddly enough, renewed criticism of an ad that Gore ran in Iowa that misrepresented Bradley's support for federal aid after Midwestern floods.

"I say that not to be critical of the vice president but of the tactic, the idea we are going to spin rather than give people the truth," Kerrey said.

At the same time, at a Manchester high school, Gore was taking credit for the booming economy and asking supporters whether they are better off than they were seven years ago. The answer for most in New Hampshire, where the unemployment rate is less than half what it was then, is obvious.

In Hudson, Bradley tweaked his standard speech to argue that he also has the skills and foresight to maintain the economy. He recounted his work as a senator on budget and tax cuts in the '80s and on trade issues.

"The point of all of this is simply to say I have had a record on the economy of being able to see a little ahead of where we are now and have an idea of what we have to do to build a new future," Bradley said.

As the high school students became restless, Bradley continued to talk about the need for change or a new beginning. But the core of Bradley's proposals was the same: increasing health coverage, eliminating child poverty and toughening gun restrictions.

While Gore again criticized Bradley's health care proposal as too risky, Bradley stubbornly promoted it. He aired a new television commercial that featured the story of a New Hampshire woman whose son apologized for being sick because of the cost.

Overall, Day 1 of Round 2 suggested more subtle than substantive changes by both Democrats. The situation was much the same for Republicans.

Bush's television commercials touted his Iowa victory, proposed tax cuts and tougher education standards. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who skipped Iowa and needs a victory Tuesday to maintain momentum, flooded the airwaves with an ad declaring he is "the only man running for president who knows the military and understands the world."

Perhaps tonight's debates, broadcast live on CNN starting at 7, will bring a surprise. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire offers competitive primaries between Gore and Bradley for the Democrats and Bush and McCain for the Republicans.

Opinion polls indicate up to one-third of likely voters still are undecided. Anything unexpected in the next six days could be decisive.

So far, though, the biggest surprise in New Hampshire has been provided by Mother Nature.

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