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Bush says national campaign strategy may account for lower New Hampshire poll numbers

Candy Crowley/CNN

December 9, 1999
Web posted at: 5:53 p.m. EST (2253 GMT)

GOFFSTOWN, New Hampshire (CNN) - The question for every Republican in the 2000 presidential race, save for Texas Governor George W. Bush, is: How do you stop a frontrunner who has a lot of money at his disposal? For Arizona Sen. John McCain, the answer has been to pretty much ignore Iowa, and focus like a laser beam on the first primary state of New Hampshire.

There are signs the McCain strategy is paying off. In the latest poll out of New Hampshire, McCain now leads George W. Bush in voter preference 37 percent to 30 percent. That's a seven-point lead -- a clear lead for McCain.

Bush learned of the poll as he was campaigning through New Hampshire on Wednesday. He pretty much shrugged off the polls, saying he expected a tight race here, adding his usual characterization of his rival: John McCain is a good man.

Where did Bush's onetime 33 point lead go? Some pundits suggest Bush may be suffering in New Hampshire because he is running more of a national campaign. That is certainly what the candidate himself seemed to suggest Wednesday.

"There's a lot of states that are going to be voting here between now and March the 7th, and I'm in Iowa and I'm in South Carolina and I'm in Delaware and I'm in Michigan. And I'm campaigning hard," Bush said.

Bush made those comments at a town hall meeting where he fielded a number of questions on education and the economy, and also from at least one speaker who wanted to take exception to pundits and critics who say Bush doesn't have the intellectual prowess to be president.

"I would rather be underestimated than overestimated. I've been underestimated before, and Governor Richards regrets it," Bush quipped, referring to former Texas Democratic Governor Anne Richards, whom Bush ousted from the Texas governor's mansion.

Speaking Thursday in New Hampshire, Bush told reporters McCain's upswing may be the product of a thoughtful New Hampshire electorate. People are considering their options, he said.

"People are making up their mind," Bush said. "That is what this is all about. I have a lot of work to do, and I am looking forward to doing it."

Bush will step up his New Hampshire stopovers in January. He has been to the state nine times, compared to 22 for McCain. McCain has virtually lived in the state, running a one state-national strategy.

Meanwhile, Bush has been all over the continental map, running in essence, a national campaign. More often than not, his sites are set on the Clinton-Gore Administration. Thursday's hit: the recent failure of the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings in Seattle.

"They weren't forceful as free traders, and Vice President Gore been amazingly silent on the issue," Bush said. "He is starring in a new movie called 'Silence in Seattle.'"

While Bush campaign officials might rather be leading in New Hampshire, they are fairly confident they have the infrastructure in place in New Hampshire and beyond to eventually beat John McCain. Still, they think it would be awfully nice to beat him in the Granite State.

No candidate wants to publicly contemplate losing before the votes are counted, still strategists both in New Hampshire and in Texas believe with organizations in 50 states, a Bush loss in New Hampshire, while not desirable, would be quite survivable.


ELECTION 2000

Debate notebook: On television, a spectacle -- but in Phoenix, a quiet night (12-7-99)

Gore, Mrs. Clinton look for votes in New York (12-7-99)

McCain decries influence of politics in military (12-7-99)

Reform Party votes to move national convention to Minnesota (12-7-99)

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