President Bush, decrying negative politics, urged New Hampshire voters Sunday to forgo casting protest votes in Tuesday's primary as aides tried to blunt the impact of a possible strong showing by conservative Patrick Buchanan.
The maneuvering by the Bush forces came as the embattled president wrapped up a weekend campaign blitz in a state that has been especially hard hit by the economic slump that has shaken confidence in his leadership.
At his first event of the day _ a pancake breakfast with 500 well-wishers at a school gymnasium in Nashua _ Bush sought to counter Buchanan's appeal as a protest candidate without mentioning his GOP challenger.
Buchanan, a onetime White House aide who now makes a living as a political commentator, is urging voters in the country's first presidential preference test to "send Bush a message" by backing his insurgency.
He claims the president betrayed conservatives by forging a 1990 budget compromise with the Democratic-led Congress that included a tax hike and also dislikes Bush's keen interest in foreign policy.
"We're not in this for messages," Bush said. "We're in this to see who should be chosen president and accept the full responsibility of the job."
Bush, who played rough to win the 1988 New Hampshire primary, told his audience he wanted to "stay above the fray" and did not attack Buchanan or any of the five major Democratic presidential candidates on the ballot here.
But he blasted away at the "sorry, negative approach" of others "from both extremes" who "don't have a clue where this country should be going or what to do about the problems that exist."
After the breakfast, Bush attended Protestant services at a traditional white-frame New England church.
Wrapping up his 28-hour visit at an "Ask George Bush" question-and-answer session in this tiny village, he again took issue with his critics.
"I don't remember a campaign, ever, with quite this much negative campaigning," he said.
While Bush was urging the people of this tiny northern state to ignore the brickbats, his aides were busy reminding reporters that New Hampshire has a long record of ornery behavior toward incumbent presidents.
By doing so, they hoped to reduce the potential for embarrassment to Bush if Buchanan makes a strong showing.