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Sorry, New Hampshire voters: Barbara Bush is not running

It was another busy Saturday morning of curlers and new 'dos at the Continental Academie of Hair Design when the familiar white-haired woman in the blue suit and pearls walked in.

"She looks like a shampoo and set," was the way Leanne Coleman, a hair stylist in training, sized her up.

The visitor feared worse. "They're all eyeing me like an unmade bed. They want to do something with the color," she joked.

Barbara Bush is back on the campaign trail. The first lady's wit and down-to-earth personality charms even the people who want to vote for her husband's acerbic challenger, Patrick Buchanan.

And the Bush campaign seems to know it. By Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, her spokeswoman says Mrs. Bush will have campaigned six days in New Hampshire, two more than the president. In 1990, she attended 42 campaign events for 39 candidates.

"She can create magic with a crowd," said Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H.

With George Bush under harsh assaults from Buchanan and the five Democratic candidates, Mrs. Bush is a weapon the opponents don't have. Her advocacy of reading and the preschool Head Start program help offset complaints that Bush doesn't pay enough attention to domestic problems. Her solid family values form a subtle contrast to the troubles faced by Democrat Bill Clinton, who has had to deny allegations of infidelity, and to a lesser extent Democrat Bob Kerrey, who is divorced.

When she campaigns, Mrs. Bush, 66, has a look-'em-in-the-eye handshake and smile that contrasts sharply with her predecessor, Nancy Reagan, known for her icy stares.

"I think she's the jewel in the crown. I think she's probably the strongest thing Bush has going," said Ruth Donovon, 84, who can recall a tea party she held for President Hoover's wife.

"A lot of the women have great faith in her. It's her integrity, her charm and her naturalness," Mrs. Donovon said. "She epitomizes womanhood the way we think it should be."

Mrs. Donovon crowded into a house in Bedford, N.H., on Saturday, one of the four stops Mrs. Bush made before joining her husband at other rallies.

At each of her solo events, the first lady touched on the same points that Bush is making _ blaming Democrats in Congress for ignoring the president's economic plan and reminding voters of the success in the Persian Gulf war.

She adds personal notes, too, talking about their dog, Millie, and offering a spouse's assurance: "You know after 47 years of marriage, I want you to know that I have not changed my mind. George Bush is still the finest man I ever met."

That drew applause at each stop from the pro-Bush voters. But even among some who aren't so sure about George Bush, Mrs. Bush is special.

"I'm probably in the majority when I say I'd vote for Barbara, but I wouldn't give a handshake to Bush," said Lloyd Farnham, 49, who was attending a Buchanan campaign event in Concord.

"She comes across as really caring for the people, a lot more than he does," said Coleman, one of the hair stylists at the Continental Academie.

Not shy when it comes to politics, Mrs. Bush once said of 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro: "Rhymes with rich." But when she was asked Saturday if she'd forgive Buchanan, she kept to the Bush campaign script by refusing to take on the GOP challenger.

She just gave a look that was partly a smile and partly a glare.

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