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New Hampshire climate agrees with Bush

George Bush came here a month ago to say he was sorry. He came back to say, "Four more years." Looking over at the Democrats, he must think it's a piece of cake.

It's both bad luck and good luck for him to face his first 1992 test here. It's bad because it gives his right-wing challenger Patrick Buchanan his best shot: Granite Staters hate government _ or they did until a Depression-strength recession hit them and they began to wail for federal help.

But it's good because the president can show off the conservative tenets he embraced after he was drowned in the Reagan deluge of 1980.

His speech to a joint session of the New Hampshire Legislature drew an emotional response, almost unthinkable elsewhere. They really puddle up when the talk turns to capital-gains tax cuts and the line-item veto.

His address in the ancient white chamber followed his morning declaration of candidacy in Washington's J.W. Marriott Hotel ballroom. The ballroom oration had muted echoes of the truculent, triumphal State of the Union speech: the gloating over victories in both hot and cold war, the baiting of Congress and the promise to bring home to America the dash and competence of Desert Storm.

In his announcement, Bush poured a thimbleful of compassion for the less fortunate. He spoke of helping children "who have no one to hold them or call them by their name."

But the children did not make it in Concord. Welfare, even the local draconian version, is considered an infectious disease. For the country's largest legislature, Bush had meat and potatoes, not "the vision thing."

He made only veiled references to Buchanan, who is preaching isolationism and protectionism to a shrinking audience. "Our national symbol," he reminded his two audiences, "is the eagle, not the ostrich."

Bush has swamped his rival in conservatives who vouch for the president's conservative orthodoxy. That is still necessary because in another life, he was what Ronald Reagan since rendered an oxymoron, a moderate Republican.

The Democrats were dismissed as "fresh faces with stale ideas" _ in other words, unfamiliar liberals.

Bush's jauntiness is understandable. The Democrats are doing his work for him by attacking each other. Their erstwhile front-runner, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, is melting before their eyes. While Bush was being deafened by the legislators' cheers, Clinton was explaining yet again another compromising chapter in his past.

He had seemingly weathered charges of dalliance, which first surfaced in a trash tabloid, but the draft evasion allegations appeared in the Wall Street Journal and they have proved stickier.

Yet the release of a letter Clinton wrote in 1969 to a colonel whom he had promised to join the ROTC tells the truth. It is not awful at all, considering the climate of the times. It is only because it comes too late.

The young Clinton tells the colonel he decided not to resist the draft because he wanted to be in politics and evading the draft would be dangerous.

Clinton's letter was well-written and moving. The candidate called its release "an invasion of privacy" and another Republican dirty trick.

Clinton's followers are shifting by the hundreds to Paul Tsongas, a former senator from Massachusetts. Republicans cannot believe that the self-described "another little Greek from Massachusetts" will be the Democratic nominee. Neither do many congressional Democrats, who wring their hands and complain that he is nothing but a "regional candidate."

Tsongas reminds only those who don't know him well of Michael Dukakis. He is a deeper and warmer man, and he can also be funny, which no one ever accused Dukakis of being.

Bush, viewing these Democratic fireworks and alarms, must feel there is little harm these writhing and confused enemies can do him.

He may think he can be defeated only by the economy _ or himself.

Universal Press Syndicate