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Cuomo backers say write stuff would bring their man into race

Hampshire voters, there is only one relevant question in the 1992 presidential race:

Wherefore art thou, Mario?

Never mind that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has said he's not running for president. Nearly 400 supporters who hope to change his mind crowded into a small college auditorium Sunday afternoon to whip up support for a Cuomo write-in vote in the presidential primary Tuesday.

Deep in his heart, they are convinced, Cuomo wants to run.

"He is not playing with us," said Phil Krone of Chicago, who out of pure admiration organized the national campaign to draft Cuomo. Krone has never met the man.

"If he really didn't want to run this year, he would have called me up about a week into it" _ there is after all a toll-free number, Krone noted _ "and said, "Please, don't waste your time and money.'

"

Cuomo is stuck in Albany working out a state budget agreement with recalcitrant Republicans, his fans said. But the budget is due April 1. And after that . . .

"I think he could bring the country together," said Alice Richardson, who lives in upstate New York. She is nearly 70 and said she does not remember such a nasty mood in America, with its divisions of race and class.

"I think there's been a definite lack of leadership in this country for the last 30 years, and he is the key to bringing us out of the economic hell we've been going through," said Chris Hickey, 41, who works with the disabled in New Hampshire. "There's nothing wrong with a little passion."

These Northeasterners cannot imagine a world where voters have not followed Cuomo's career, where people have not been dazzled by his speeches, where any thinking person is not aware that Cuomo gave a speech at Harvard last week that may or may not have been calculated to boost his presidential profile.

It was a speech about welfare marked by "eloquence, brilliance, clarity, controlled passion," said historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who was the big draw at the Cuomo rally.

Nor do Cuomo's fans trifle with specifics. Asked again and again what Cuomo could do for the country, the answers were that he could "fix this mess," that he has "the best message," that "the future of the nation depends on it."

Schlesinger, who served in the Kennedy administration, said he is supporting Cuomo for four reasons: He's the only candidate who can rattle George Bush in a debate; he won't let Bush set the agenda for the campaign; the 1992 issues of recession, joblessness, education and family are close to Cuomo's heart; and he could be a great president.

"There is no reason for us to stand idly by and watch the nation decompose," Schlesinger said. "We remain masters of our destiny if we have the will and the leadership."

Write-ins are easy on New Hampshire's paper ballots and Cuomo volunteers will be handing out pencils at the polls Tuesday.

New Hampshire has surprised the nation with write-ins before.

In 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge, then ambassador to Vietnam, defeated Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller on a write-in vote in the Republican primary. And in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, who had not campaigned in New Hampshire, won the Democratic primary as a write-in. Sen. Eugene McCarthy was so close behind, however, that Johnson eventually decided not to seek another term.

Since then, no write-in candidate has received more than 5 percent of the vote in a New Hampshire primary.

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