BOSTON — MASSACHUSETTS Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D) smiles broadly as he hands out breakfast trays of French toast, sausages, and syrup to elementary students here at the Josiah Quincy School.
Next to him stand a host of other state Democratic leaders, many sporting Clinton/Gore campaign buttons. While photographers eagerly snap pictures, the politicians chat amiably among themselves, shake hands with youngsters, and help serve breakfast in this city school cafeteria. Normally, two days after a state primary these Bay State politicians would be eating their own breakfast at a downtown hotel, not serving it in a school cafeteria. But this time they abandoned their "unity breakfast" and instead united behind their presidential candidate, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
In this northeastern corner of the United States, Governor Clinton is starting to sound attractive to New England voters. Yet, his strength here is only a recent phenomenon. Even in one of the most economically troubled regions, Clinton was unable to win any primary or caucus. During the primary season, former US Sen. Paul Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts won contests in his home state, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island while Jerry Brown, former California governor, won races in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont .
But now that the field of contenders has narrowed, the Clinton campaign here is gearing up. "I think the Clinton campaign is doing remarkably well in New England," says Representative Kennedy, chairman of the Massachusetts Clinton campaign. "I think the people here have been hit hard [by the recession]."
Besides former Senator Tsongas's regional appeal, New Englanders didn't favor Clinton because he is a Southerner, say political analysts. "Southern candidates come across as being too smooth and too slick for New England sensibilities,'" says Tom Kiley, a Democratic pollster.
President Bush also has a much stronger connection to the region than Clinton. Mr. Bush was born in Massachusetts and has a Maine home. His father was a Connecticut senator, and he grew up and went to college in that state.
"There's no question that George Bush is the more familiar, the more comfortable shoe for most New England voters," says Mr. Kiley. "[But] the large economic anxieties and concerns here are dramatically overshadowed by these kinds of cultural and personal affinities."
Political analysts disagree over what New England states the candidates may win, but the region is becoming more Democratic, says William Schneider, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Mr. Schneider suggests that Bush will carry Connecticut and New Hampshire while Clinton may take the remaining four states.
John Long, Bush's New England political director, disagrees. "I think the Clinton campaign is probably counting on New England as a base. But ... I think there are three states that are true battleground states: Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont."
Even in New Hampshire, a traditionally Republican state, voters are showing signs of moving toward Clinton. A recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll finds him leading Bush 44 percent to 33 percent. But Ricia McMahon, Clinton's New Hampshire campaign director, admits the poll sounds "too good to be true at this stage of the game."
Nevertheless, Clinton supporters are campaigning hard in all New England states. Both Clinton and his vice presidential running mate, US Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, have made several visits to the region this year, with Clinton scheduled to make another Boston stop this Friday. State campaign offices are holding fund-raising events as well. Campaign workers are planning 50 parties in Vermont on Oct. 8, says Jennifer O'Connor, Clinton's Vermont campaign director.
For the most part, Democratic political leaders in the six states have actively campaigned for Clinton. But Tsongas's lukewarm support has not gone unnoticed. Last week, he campaigned for his own initiative, "Lead or Leave," to encourage federal candidates to pledge to cut the budget deficit in half by 1996.
"I think Tsongas is putting most of his energy into that [effort], which is, of course, a clever way of avoiding being involved in the presidential campaign," Kiley says. "My sense is that there is neither energy nor enthusiasm at all on the part of Paul Tsongas for Bill Clinton."