VICE President Dan Quayle shook hands with shoppers, paid visits to local plants, and bantered with reporters as he kicked off the Bush administration's presidential campaign with a two-day foray into New Hampshire.
On arrival at the Nashua Municipal Airport early Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Quayle said: "Today I am in New Hampshire to listen to the people of New Hampshire. Knowing the people of New Hampshire as I do, I don't think they will be the least bit bashful about telling me about their lives. I'll listen, I'll take notes."
Quayle's visit, which came a day after news of Mr. Bush's collapse in Japan, drew questions from both reporters and citizens about the president's condition. But the vice president played down concerns.
"The president is doing well, is progressing well," he said. "I must tell you that these foreign trips are very difficult. They're demanding on you. They're long hours. You go into a different time zone almost every day. But the president puts in long hours working for the people of New Hampshire and the American people."
Mr. Bush is scheduled to make his first official campaign visit to New Hampshire next week.
Some 150 reporters and photographers, crammed into two press buses and a van, followed the vice president throughout the day Wednesday.
Quayle was greeted with both cheers and boos as he entered Nashua's Pheasant Lane Mall. Protesters carrying signs supporting conservative commentator and columnist Patrick Buchanan gathered outside the mall. But many shoppers inside were pleased to meet the vice president as he shook their hands and gave autographs.
"I think it's wonderful," said Elizabeth Gautieri of Nashua, who admitted, however, that she would not be supporting the president in November. "I think Bush has had his turn long enough now. I'd like to see new blood in there," she said.
Quayle also toured Ingersoll-Rand Company, a Nashua plant that supplies machinery for the paper and pulp industry. Jerry Lancaster, an employee from Amherst, N.H., said he was glad to see the vice president.
"I think it's a great morale builder for the day, for everybody to see the vice president," said Mr. Lancaster, who indicated he will vote for Bush in November. "I like the things he's done, the Gulf war and that sort of stuff. He's done a good job."
But many residents here are concerned about the weak economy. The lingering recession has hit the New England states hard: Since 1989, weak real estate markets, bank failures, high unemployment, and state budget crises have turned the 1980s boom into a bust.
New Hampshire alone has lost about 10 percent of its jobs, continues to see companies leave the state, and has the fastest growing number of people seeking welfare assistance of any state.
According to a poll conducted Dec. 1-4 for the Boston Globe by KRC Communications Research, the economy was central to residents' concerns in the Granite State. Eighty-three percent of the 880 polled said they were worse off than in 1988. Three out of four said they knew someone unable to find a job.
New Hampshire's distressed economy has made the state a testing ground for President Bush. "Everybody's worried about the economy in New Hampshire," says Robert Craig, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "Bush is in a very tough spot."
Bush was scheduled to make only one trip to New Hampshire. Now, he is planning three visits.
"It's obviously a demonstration of the fact that they [the Bush organization] are very concerned," Mr. Craig said.
"There was a time not long ago when [people] were wondering if he would even enter the New Hampshire primary."
Robert Arseneau, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, says Bush and Quayle are trying to convince voters the president cares about the economy.
"There's a steady stream of somewhat upbeat proposals that are enabling the administration to influence the nightly news, and that really is the key as we move toward the primary," Professor Arseneau says.
Noting that Bush will deliver his State of the Union speech Jan. 28, Arseneau says: "I would not be surprised to see something fairly dramatic" in terms of a plan for economic recovery come out of the message.
Quayle brushed aside reporters' questions about the possible impact on the Bush campaign of Buchanan's presidential bid.
"I don't think anyone seriously believes that Pat Buchanan is going to be the Republican nominee for president. I don't even think he believes that," the vice president said.
Arseneau agrees that, for now, Buchanan doesn't pose a real threat to Bush. "I don't see Buchanan as having developed a campaign appeal that effectively capitalizes on the economic distress here," he says.
But Craig says: "Mr. Buchanan has got a potentially large audience. He's going to find a lot of people ready and willing to listen because they're already mad at Bush."
Some analysts say that Buchanan could embarrass the president if the conservative candidate gets 30 percent or more of the primary vote.