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Bush formally enters campaign, says "we can change America'

George Bush put in a few hours at the office Wednesday, publicly pronounced himself ready for another four years on the job and then headed off to a mall to shop for votes.

Here, in the economically stunned state where he faces a surprising challenge to his nomination in Tuesday's primary, Bush assumed the role of a caring leader trying to make his case for a second term.

He shook the hands of the hundreds who braved single-digit temperatures to drive out to see him at the Bedford Mall. Smiling along the way, Bush patted babies, talked to their parents and stopped to autograph the Bush-Quayle campaign sticker on Doris Burgess' sweater.

Like other New Hampshire voters, and the president's own advisers, Burgess said Bush must show the state's voters that he understands their plight. "The people are really down, they need moral support," she said.

The people of New Hampshire demand personal campaigning, and they're going to get it from Bush as he steps up his schedule in these final days of the primary race. He returns Saturday and Sunday, trying to win back voters who threaten to cast ballots for right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan as a way of sending their globe-trotting president a message.

Bush is leading in the polls, but a large group of undecided voters could make the election close if they side with Buchanan.

"He's already got the message," explained Bush adviser Charles Black.

Bush, who once thought he would coast to the nomination, had campaigned here just 12 hours, until Wednesday, while Buchanan has been in the state for most of the last nine weeks.

"It's been a long time between visits," said Thomas Rath, a Concord attorney who is a key Bush adviser in the state. "One of the problems of the campaign is getting him out of the cocoon of the presidency."

On Wednesday, Bush formally announced in Washington he would run for another term and then flew up to New Hampshire for a speech where he recalled his triumphant days of the Persian Gulf war and the fall of Communism. "If we can change the world, we can change America," he told the New Hampshire Legislature.

Bush explained how his economic plan would help New Hampshire and said he'd set a deadline for Congress to pass it. "By March 20, I want to be able to report to the American people that the liberation of America's economy has begun," he said.

Despite Bush's assurances, some feel betrayed because he went back on the "no new taxes" vow he made in New Hampshire in 1988. Their wondering about what Bush stands for smacks of the "wimp factor" that dogged him four years ago.

"What's that joke about being in the middle of the road? The only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and skunks," said Caroline Douglas, a lawyer who supports Buchanan.

Buchanan draws himself in clear, conservative lines. He berates Bush for raising taxes, for ceding to Congress' whims and for trade policies he says sends jobs overseas. "I don't think we ought to be trade wimps," Buchanan told a crowd at the Concord Ramada Inn on Tuesday night.

The Boston Herald used a similar line in endorsing Buchanan Wednesday, saying Bush "wimps out whenever Congress plays rough."

Bush wants to expand trade, saying it will help the high-technology industry in New Hampshire and elsewhere. He didn't mention Buchanan by name, but Wednesday he castigated what he called the "new isolationism."

"Boil away all the tough talk, all the swagger and all the patriotic posturing, and protectionism amounts to nothing more than a smoke screen for a country that's running scared, and that's not the America you and I know," Bush told the applauding legislators. "Our national symbol isn't the ostrich, it's the eagle."