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Weak win, strong second // NEW HAMPSHIRE

Stanley and Beverly Hill know the meaning of family values. As she put it: "I raised seven children on the skin of my teeth."

But don't go preaching to them about social issues.

"Abortion is up to the individual woman," said her husband, 58, as he sipped coffee after Sunday brunch. "If she wants to have one, go ahead and have one."

The traveling road show known as the 1996 presidential campaign descends on New Hampshire today, leaving the Iowa cornfields and a dominant social agenda behind. When the candidates arrive, they step into a dramatically different political landscape.

"The Christian right is relatively small and weak in this state," said Linda Fowler, a professor at Dartmouth College. Her polling for the school's Rockefeller Center shows more than 80 percent of New Hampshire voters rank the deficit and taxes as their top concerns.

"Abortion and family values are at the bottom of the list."

Part of the reason is simple math. About 10 percent of New Hampshire Republicans identify themselves as fundamentalists or evangelicals, while 40 percent of Iowa's GOP is aligned with the religious movement.

So while the candidates were singing in Iowa churches Sunday and the state's influential Christian Coalition distributed leaflets, many of the customers at Steve's Restaurant in Rumney were occupied with money worries.

With one week to go before New Hampshire's primary, voters here want the candidates to address their economic fears.

"I don't think the job situation is as rosy as it's put out to be," said David Hazelton, a 44-year-old New Hampton man who works for a tool-and-die company in the shadow of the White Mountains.

His wife, Barbara, has watched several friends take menial labor after being laid off from higher-paying jobs.

"The living is hard in New Hampshire," she said.

The Hazeltons and Hills are not alone in the New Hampshire GOP. One need look only at the political winners and losers of New Hampshire lore to understand that the Yankee mentality puts a premium on independent-minded fiscal conservatives.

In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson stormed into the Granite State after a stunning second place in Iowa. The pundits then waited in vain for an "invisible army" of Robertson faithful that never materialized. Just a week after upsetting George Bush with the help of Iowa's religious activists, Robertson finished a dismal fifth and never recovered, although he did go on to form the Christian Coalition.

Today, only New Hampshire's Sen. Bob Smith actively courts the evangelical vote here, and many state officials find they can openly defy it without serious risk of political harm. As recently as Sunday, the state's popular Republican governor, Steve Merrill, said on national television that abortion should not be a litmus test for Supreme Court justices.

The reason is simple.

"The Christian Coalition is not well-organized here," said Charlie Arlinghaus, executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party. "They are much less of a force here than nationally."

That means Pat Buchanan, who relied heavily on Christian activists to boost him to victory in Louisiana and to a near-win in Iowa, must recast his message if he has any hope of survival in New Hampshire.

"Up here, Buchanan's appeal in '92 was economic populism," said Fowler, referring to Buchanan's strong second place in New Hampshire four years ago. "That still resonates up here. But he has high negatives because he is associated with the religious right."

Some of the diners at Steve's do put moral issues high on their agenda, though.

Bob and Debbie Crabb said they lean toward Buchanan or Alan Keyes because both have spoken eloquently against abortion, an act they describe as murder. But even the Crabbs, who work at a local Bible camp, are skeptical of the Christian Coalition, which they say is too focused on money and politics.

And although families like the Crabbs seem to be leaving their mark on local school boards, they remain a minority in statewide races. Perhaps more common was the discussion in the next room, where three young men who spent the night camping in the snowy woods washed down their breakfasts with beer.

"I don't like to see the right wing come in," said Eric Skogseth, a Republican who described himself as pro choice. "There's supposed to be a separation of church and state."

Exit poll highlights

+ What mattered most in determining your vote?

Experience in Washington 15%

Best represents conservative values 35%

Supported Iowa as first caucus 1%

His tax plan 6%

Can beat Clinton 16%

Position on abortion 8%

Not a career politician 7%

+ If Bob Dole were president, his age would:

Help him 5%

Hurt him 33%

Make no difference 59%

Source: Knight-Ridder Tribune

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