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Donuts, Diners and Detours for Democrats

Times Staff Writers

The Democratic presidential hopefuls began a last blitz of New Hampshire campaigning Friday, with the pack chasing the frontrunner, Sen. John F. Kerry, across a snowy landscape dotted with voters still trying to make up their minds.

Having met in their final debate, the candidates focused on a nitty-gritty style of courtship -- the see-me, touch-me campaigning that makes running for president in the state more akin to a race for small-town mayor.

Kerry chatted up the breakfast crowd at Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, then moved on to a session with veterans in Manchester, the state’s biggest city. Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark served doughnuts and swatted away questions about abortion and controversial remarks by filmmaker Michael Moore.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina spoke at a leather factory before detouring to South Carolina, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took aim at Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

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Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut unveiled a new TV ad underlining his support for the war in Iraq, while Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio reiterated his call for universal health care.

The latest opinion surveys -- including a new Los Angeles Times Poll -- showed Kerry with a solid lead among likely voters in Tuesday’s primary. Dean, who had been atop New Hampshire polls for weeks, was in second place in most of the surveys, but Clark and Edwards were close behind.

Still, a considerable number of voters told pollsters they were undecided or willing to change their minds -- much as in the days before Kerry surged to victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Edwards finished a surprise second in that contest and Dean third.

Among New Hampshire’s undecided was Teresa Grschwind, a 36-year-old mother of two, who showed up Friday at a Dean event in Nashua. She liked Dean, she said, but it was hard to ignore Kerry’s recent rise in polls.

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“My biggest concern is getting George Bush out of the White House, so maybe right now it would be Kerry,” said Grschwind.

In a further sign of momentum for the Massachusetts senator, Kerry picked up his highest-profile endorsement yet, winning the support of Walter F. Mondale. The former vice president and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee issued a statement from his office in Minneapolis, saying Kerry “has the experience, judgment and character to serve as president and he has the skills to do the job on day one.”

Today, Kerry is expected to gain the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters, a coalition of environmental groups.

Also reflecting his prominence, Kerry came under fire from Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee. He told a conservative group meeting outside Washington, D.C., that Kerry was even more liberal than fellow Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

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At Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, customers were outnumbered by reporters and photographers, and waitresses struggled to push through the crush of cameras as Kerry worked the diner.

Afterward, Kerry headed to Manchester for a tour of Poly Vac, a manufacturer of high-tech medical equipment, and then a rally with military veterans.

Speaking to several hundred supporters, Kerry scrapped much of his usual stump speech for an emotional remembrance of his Vietnam service.

“The first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who have worn the uniform of the country,” he said. He charged that President Bush has shortchanged the nation’s veterans by slashing health care and other services.

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Dean continued jabbing at Kerry, Edwards and Lieberman -- gently -- as he contrasted his executive experience in Vermont with their years in Congress. Fighting a voice strained by laryngitis and a cough, Dean told a crowd of about 120 at the Londonderry Lions Club that he was a proven leader willing to make tough decisions that President Bush and his opponents would not.

As part of his promise to end business as usual, Dean said he would replace Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, saying he had become “too political.”

“I’m troubled by his willingness to bend in political winds,” Dean told reporters later, elaborating as he stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bag of apples. “He’s had a long, distinguished career, but in the last year or so, I’ve been disturbed by his willingness to accede to tax cuts that are irresponsible and a level of deficit which is deeply troubling.”

Later, Dean clarified his remarks, acknowledging the president cannot replace the Fed chairman in the middle of his four-year term. Greenspan’s tenure ends in June, before the presidential election, and Bush has indicated he would reappoint him to the post. Dean said he would not, if it were his decision.

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Dean’s raucous Iowa concession speech continued to echo in New Hampshire -- with many supporters accusing the media of making too much of a high-spirited moment.

“I was very impressed with what I saw today,” said Ed Gillick, a retired school administrator who was in the Lions Club audience in Londonderry. “I think the media runs with the creed, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ and I think they exploited this, to be honest with you. We’ve all had emotional moments like that.”

Later, Dean had some fun at his own expense. During a question-and-answer session in Keene, which drew an overflow crowd of 1,500, a woman near the back of the crowd thanked Dean “for not apologizing for your performance in Iowa.”

After the crowd roared its affirmation, Dean buttoned up his coat and studiously reprised his infamous roll call of states: “May I say we are going to win South Carolina. We are going to win New Hampshire. We will win Ohio. We will win Arizona. And then, we’ll go on to win Massachusetts. And after we are done doing that, we will win New York.”

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When the cheering subsided, Dean said he could not resist. “That does look more presidential, doesn’t it?” he said.

Clark began his day serving drive-through customers as window man at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Derry.

“One dollar and 80 cents,” he said with a grin as he handed a cup of coffee and a cruller to a woman who seemed frightened by the crush of photographers surrounding her car.

But much of Clark’s time Friday was spent dealing with a pair of sticky issues: comments that filmmaker Moore made about Bush and the candidate’s muddied stance on abortion.

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After Moore referred to President Bush as a “deserter” at a recent Clark event, the retired general repeatedly declined to disassociate from the comment. He said he did not know the facts surrounding Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam war, and instead defended Moore’s right to free speech.

But on Friday, Clark sought to distance himself from the flap. “I think the issue should be set aside,” Clark said in Nashua. “I can’t agree with Michael Moore. But I can’t dispute his right to say what he feels.”

Clark also fended off questions about a statement this month that he opposed any restrictions on abortion, even in the third trimester. He reiterated that he supports the Supreme Court decisions that place certain limits on abortion and declined further comment.

“The abortion issue is a very technical issue,” Clark said. “The courts continue to argue back and forth on what this means.... I support choice, and I support it in accordance with the settled laws of the land.”

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In Concord, the state capital, Edwards began the day with a subdued presentation to about 75 people at Page Belting, a factory that makes belts and knife sheathes.

There were more reporters -- 100 -- than workers on hand, and Edwards strained to build the sort of rapport with his audience that often marked his appearances in Iowa. He referred almost wistfully to the days when he attracted less news media attention.

“Last time I was here, we all talked without a lot of you folks here,” he said, gesturing to the banks of television cameras.

Even as he campaigns in New Hampshire, Edwards has kept his political sights trained on South Carolina’s Feb. 3 primary, which he has called a must-win.

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After his Concord appearance, he to flew to Columbia, S.C., for a brief appearance, reprising his campaign theme that under Bush the nation has become too divided along class and racial lines.

Lieberman, running far back in opinion surveys, drew a tiny crowd at a morning stop at the Bagel Works in Concord. A cluster of volunteers and several reporters awaited him, but most of the dozen of so people milling about the small coffee shop seemed surprised he was there.

Lieberman’s new ad touts his record on security and described him as “a leader in the fight against terrorism and tyranny.”

“When you think about the dangers facing our country, think about Joe Lieberman’s courage and conviction,” the ad concludes. “It just might make all the difference.”

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Times staff writers Faye Fiore, James Gerstenzang, Maria L. La Ganga and Scott Martelle contributed to this report.


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