Republican presidential hopefuls fanned out Saturday across the first primary state of New Hampshire to test the political waters on the eve an unofficial kickoff of the 1996 campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the GOP’s apparent front-runner, used several “town meetings” to answer questions and ease concerns that at age 71 he is too old to win the White House.
“If you think age is an issue, then you just follow me around for a day,” the Kansan told supporters in Keene.
Dole is one of nine likely Republican candidates scheduled to speak today at a party fund-raiser in Manchester. The gathering is being billed as the unofficial kickoff of the 1996 presidential campaign.
Joining Dole will be Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, commentators Patrick J. Buchanan and Alan Keyes, Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove and former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin.
Buchanan, in an impromptu news conference in Manchester, tried to put a positive spin on a recent poll that showed Dole leading the GOP field with 45%, and Buchanan and Gramm far behind in second with 10% each.
“The idea that I’m tied for second is, first, astonishing for me . . . and I was hoping I wouldn’t come out that well so I could slip in under the radar,” he told reporters.
Lugar, who also met with reporters in Manchester, sounded very much like a candidate, although he continued to maintain this visit is to help him decide whether to run.
“We’re going about that, I think, with vigor, and we will make some decisions in a few weeks if not a few days,” Lugar said.
Dole, whose 1988 presidential bid was derailed by his loss in New Hampshire to George Bush, joked about that primary campaign.
“All the polls were good, but then the people voted,” said Dole, who later called this race “different but better” than the 1988 race.
Buchanan, who pulled a surprisingly strong 37% of the vote in the 1992 New Hampshire Republican primary against President Bush, also said he would draw upon that experience in this race.
“I learned everything I know about campaigning in New Hampshire, and I guess now we’ll see how well I learned it,” he said.