New Hampshire campaign trail: leading toward '84?
Concord, N.H. — Political footprints are appearing anew in snow-quilted New Hampshire.
It isn't always clear where some of those footprints may lead; but at least a few of the tracks point not to next fall's state and congressional elections, but to the 1984 presidential campaign.
Although no White House aspirant has come close to setting up shop in the Granite State, or anywhere else, at least three could-be contenders for the Democratic nomination will have been here before spring. Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio, for example, was key speaker at a Nov. 20 fund-raiser for Democratic Gov. Hugh J. Gallen; Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California came to New Hampshire Jan. 29 for a Democratic state party dinner, and former Vice-President Walter Mondale will be the chief speaker at another party fund-raiser March 19.
The possibility of a later function, featuring Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, is being quietly discussed within New Hampshire Democratic ranks. This would be his first venture into the state since he lost the 1980 presidential primary here to President Carter.
For the most part, Granite State Democrats are not about to take sides in a presidential primary still more than two years away. Even Governor Gallen, who was anything but lukewarm in his enthusiasm for reelection of President Carter in 1980, is not about to hint which of the potential contenders for his party's presidential nomination he may be leaning toward. ''I am sure there will be some good candidates and we will have a very interesting campaign,'' he asserts.
Gallen, who seems all but certain to seek a third two-year term later this year, is elated over the recommendations of a special commission to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that the Granite State be allowed to hold its presidential primary a week before any other state in 1984.
Gallen voices disappointment that Kennedy supporters and representatives from organized labor on the special panel advising the DNC pushed a proposal that he holds would have lessened the impact of the New Hampshire primary by putting it the day after the Iowa caucus. That move, however, failed in favor of an eight-day time spread pushed by Mondale operatives on the commission.
''We worked very hard for this and I am glad they recognized our unique situation,'' Gallen says enthusiastically, noting that for the past three decades New Hampshire has had the first primary in the nation, and state law mandates that it come not less than a week before balloting anywhere else.
He and other prominent Granite State Democrats supported the commission-endorsed arrangement that, if approved by the DNC, would clear the way for the 1984 Iowa party caucus to be held Feb. 27 and the New Hampshire primary on March 6.
The remaining states and territories entitled to delegates at the Democratic National Convention would hold their primaries during a 13-week period, commencing March 13.
Continuing the tradition of the first primary in the nation is not only popular within state Democratic circles but among Republicans as well. As a small state, New Hampshire offers every legitimate candidate a forum and a chance at victory and recognition, Gallen emphasizes, adding that''our voters take the primary very seriously and we measure the candidates very carefully.''
He recalls how campaigning in his state helped launch Mr. Carter on his successful 1976 bid for the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Two years ago New Hampshire gave a similar push to Ronald Reagan, who, after losing the Iowa caucuses to George Bush, gained his first big boost toward the GOP nomination and White House here.
That this remains pretty much Reagan territory is underscored by the fact that a small army of New Hampshire GOP activists, including former state party chairman Gerald Carmen, have joined the Reagan administration over the past 12 months. State party leadership remains in conservative hands.