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The TV's not broken, it's just the candidates


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2000

NASHUA, N.H. -- With all their might, they cling to the quaint notion here that voters don't decide which presidential candidate they like until they meet the candidates a few times before Tuesday's first-in-the-nation primary.

That isn't completely accurate.

There is no doubt that the portion of voters who get to see candidates in the flesh and make their own judgments is much larger in New Hampshire than in Florida. But most of them still rely on television ads just like Floridians.

The view from campaign buses, town hall meetings and news conferences offers one perspective on the personalities, issues and nuances of the candidates. The more common view from the couch, watching WMUR-TV in Manchester for an hour the other night, offers another:

10:36 p.m. -- A good-looking fellow, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, stands outside and endorses fellow Republican George W. Bush.

"He has an extraordinary record as governor," Gregg said. "His ideas are bold."

Whose aren't?

Gregg's red winter jacket looks nice, though.

10:37 p.m. -- Vice President Al Gore talks fast about the environment and Social Security. But the main thing he wants us to know is he is fighting for us.

10:45 p.m. -- Michael Jordan is running for president and has been endorsed by Bugs Bunny.

Scratch that. He's talking about telephone service.

10:47 p.m. -- Gore: "I know one thing very clearly about the job as president."

He'd better after seven years as vice president. Gore pledges to fight for all of the people. There must be a huge battle raging somewhere.

10:48 p.m. -- Pictures of Rush Limbaugh and Ronald Reagan flash by with quotes too small to read. It turns out to be an ad for Republican Alan Keyes, the former U.S. ambassador. He's really mad about how the country has lost its morals.

Does he want to fight Gore?

11:08 p.m. The local news is on. WMUR is analyzing the snowstorm as a presidential issue. Republican John McCain says it reminds him of the weather in his home state of Arizona. What a jokester.

Republican Steve Forbes says he's surprised somebody has not tried to tax the snow yet. Not funny.

11:09 p.m. -- WMUR has an exclusive interview with Bush.

Bush: "Republicans are interested in nominating someone who can guide us to victory."

Now there's a scoop.

The Texas governor says he doesn't like being away from home, but "it's worth it to restore dignity to the office."

11:10 p.m. -- WMUR shows Gore at an MTV Get-Out-the-Vote event.

"Theeeee chaaaange youuuuu waaaant toooo seeee willll taaake plaaace ifff youuuu par--tic--iiii--paate," the vice president says.

All of that fighting must have affected his speech.

11:13 p.m. -- WMUR promotes the presidential debate in Manchester with pictures of all the candidates. It's a safe bet most of them won't be around by Florida's primaries on March 14.

11:13 p.m. -- Alan Keyes is still mad.

"We won't win any of these battles until we win back the moral future of the country," he declares.

Gore better watch out. Keyes looks like he is ready to come after someone.

11:15 p.m. -- Senior citizens sit around talking about prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. One of them apparently is Flo, who has been on television in Florida.

"Let's join hands," says Flo in an ad by Citizens for Better Medicare, an outfit backed by the drug companies.

Flo is a lot happier than Gore and Keyes.

11:16 p.m. -- A bunch of new faces fly past on the television screen. One says he is sick of paying 40 cents of every dollar in taxes. Another says he thought the IRS stood for "It's Really Screwed Up." The "U" must be silent.

These people are not happy, but it's not clear what they want.

At the very end, a quick picture of Forbes comes on. No wonder those people were scowling.

11:19 p.m. -- Bush talks directly into the camera. He says there is a debate about taxes. He swears he can cut taxes and still protect Social Security. He doesn't offer a single detail.

"On Feb. 1, you settle the debate: tax cuts or bigger government," Bush says.

That's strange. Which Republican is supporting bigger government?

11:21 p.m. -- Another candidate stands at a podium with balloons in the background and makes some pledges. He looks vaguely familiar.

It is Ross Parrott, an actor selling Chevrolets for the local dealer.

11:22 p.m. -- Here's a shot of soldiers, McCain standing on a warship and an old picture of him as a Navy fighter pilot.

Are we going to war?

11:26 p.m. -- Al Gore is still fighting for us.

11:27 p.m. -- More strange faces. They are talking about Forbes. They say he is honest and a man of his word.

They leave out stiff as a board.

11:35 p.m. McCain comes on again. The ad says he still is the only man running for president "who knows the military and understands the world."

He did look great as a fighter pilot.

11:36 p.m. Ross Parrott is still selling Chevys. He fits right in.

11:36 p.m. Bush still thinks taxes are too high and wants New Hampshire voters to choose between tax cuts or bigger government Tuesday.

No wonder New Hampshire voters prefer to see candidates in person.

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