IT'S a bit after 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in Manchester,
N.H. Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander is meeting
with about 250 students crammed into a double-sized classroom at
Memorial High School.
Along a side wall, a few reporters and photographers are
recording the event -- including, most importantly, WMUR-TV, New
Hampshire's major television station. Behind the former Tennessee
governor, an interpreter for the deaf is signing his talk.
It is a typical day this time of quadrennial year for New
Hampshire, a time when presidential candidates are as prevalent in
the state as taps on maple trees. Their presence highlights both
the importance of New Hampshire in electing the next president as
well as the one-on-one touch residents get more than in any other
A recent day in the life of two GOP contenders -- former
Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and Sen. Arlen Specter, both
well back in the polls -- tells something about the culture of
campaigning Granite State-style, and the messages candidates are
Mr. Alexander, in suit and tie, introduces himself to the
students. He has already raised $6 million of the $20 million he
figures he'll need to campaign effectively. But he's not a familiar
face yet, he jokes: His red-and-black flannel shirt is better known
The former Tennessee governor launches into his message: "The
next president, the person we elect next year will be sitting in
the Oval Office in the White House on the first day of the year
2000.... I think the major purpose of the president will be to help
us recapture our confidence in the future."
The country needs to concentrate on new-job growth, Alexander
says, and move as much decisionmaking as possible out of Washington
-- especially in education, law enforcement, and welfare. He says
Congress should meet six months and spend the rest of the year in
"I'd like to focus on personal responsibility," Alexander says.
"The Republican Party tried to talk about personal responsibility
in 1992, but we didn't do a very good job of it.... We all know
that most of the problems that worry us have to do with the
breakdown of the family, the neighborhood, the church, and the
By now the room has become a sauna. The students pepper him with
questions, but are always respectful. He says he'd set aside Social
Security and balance the rest of the budget, including Medicare,
first. He opposes Sen. Richard Lugar's proposal for a national
retail sales tax because sales taxes should be a state tool and the
tax would be too easy to increase.
A young man asks about abortion. "I believe abortion is wrong,"
Alexander says. The federal government should stay out of the issue
and leave it to the states.
Would he eliminate the Department of Education? Yes, but what
isn't turned over to the states should go to other federal
agencies. He'd keep the college loan program and university
More questions: Alexander would stop the "free-fall" in defense
spending. He thinks the House GOP crime bill calls for too much
federal interference in state and local issues; so does the
welfare-reform package. Drugs? The government should do everything
it can to limit the supply. But "you must do something in your own