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Democrat Simon Makes Whirlwind Visit : New Hampshire Contest Picks Up Steam

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Times Staff Writer

His blue bow tie hung askew, his red bowling shirt flapped wide, and his tongue stuck out, but Paul Simon picked up three pins to bowl a spare in his second frame at the Stadium Ten-Pin Lanes here Saturday night.

If that doesn’t sound like hot news, tell it to the 10 photographers and TV crews who jostled and clustered on both sides of the alley to shoot the grinning Illinois senator’s every move.

“Oh Lord, it’s starting,” moaned Nelson Lesmerises, a 33-year-old electrician, who watched nearby as Simon tied his tie for the cameras.

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Picks Up Steam

Indeed, seven weeks after the traditional Labor Day campaign kickoff, the Democratic presidential contest finally began to pick up steam last week in the state that holds the nation’s first primary next Feb. 16.

Simon, for example, arrived Friday night for a five-day whirlwind visit to 21 towns and five schools and universities in a trip aides called the “grand opening” of his New Hampshire campaign.

To get around, Simon used two five-seat helicopters for his staff and traveling press. The choppers alone impressed some voters.

“One marvelous benefit was he blew all the leaves off the lawn,” said Virginia Irwin, who invited 60 people to meet Simon at her home in rural Newport.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee unveiled an unusual strategy of his own. He spoke Tuesday night to about 75 members of the New Hampshire Satellite Dish Dealers Assn.

A Satellite Dish Bill

For 40 minutes, Gore detailed a Senate bill he introduced to ensure home satellite dish owners access to commercial cable programming. The law would set standards for decoders, ban scrambling of public broadcasting and allow independent non-cable operators to service satellite dish owners.

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“I couldn’t believe the injustice,” Gore told the dish dealers, explaining his support. “It offended my sense of fair play.”

If the issue seemed obscure, said Gore’s state campaign director, Richard Nicholson, Gore has written to all of New Hampshire’s 6,000 satellite dish owners. “They are a group that is passionate about their issue,” Nicholson said. “And it happens to be a group that is exclusively ours.”

Gore is the only Democrat who now spends more time here than in distant Iowa, which holds its caucuses eight days before the New Hampshire primary and where his campaign has met limited support. Iowa has eclipsed New Hampshire this year as the crucial first battleground of the 1988 campaign.

Gephardt’s Schedule

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, for example, will campaign 14 days in Iowa this month but only four days in New Hampshire. Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis spends two days in Iowa for every day he spends here.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson last visited New Hampshire on the day he formally announced his campaign. And former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who has spent 32 days here since last June, now comes only twice a month.

All of the Democrats except Gephardt will meet in a televised two-hour forum on environmental issues next Sunday in Bedford, a Manchester suburb. It will be the largest gathering of Democratic candidates so far in the state.

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Overall, the political horse race has been slow to spark widespread interest or support here compared to previous campaigns, state officials said. One reason is Dukakis’ apparent strength in the state. But officials say no one has captured the voters’ fancy yet.

‘Campaign Tempo Is Off’

“The campaign tempo is off this year,” said Scott Williams, vice chairman of the state party.

Only three of six campaigns fought for state convention delegates in party caucuses that began last weekend, for example. Dukakis won the most delegates, followed by Gephardt and Babbitt.

But the state Democratic Party chairman, J. Joseph Grandmaison, said he was “flabbergasted” because up to 25% of the delegates were uncommitted. “That was obviously not the case four years ago,” he said. “Campaigns were further along then in their grass-roots organizing.”

Simon’s campaign is just getting under way. He has only one office in the state, contrasted with six for most other campaigns. Simon’s aides say the campaign will open six more in coming weeks.

While here, Simon is trying to line up former supporters of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who quit the race last month after it was discovered he had misrepresented his background. Biden activists have boosted Simon significantly in Iowa.

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That is unlikely here, said John Broderick, Biden’s former campaign co-chairman. “I think most of the Biden people here will not get very active in anyone else’s campaign,” he said. “I think a lot of us are kind of disillusioned.”

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