July 4th No Holiday for GOP Hopefuls

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

Hopkinton, NH (CNS) - The July Fourth holiday was one of those grip and grin weekends for many Republican presidential candidates who criss-crossed the state in search of votes in a primary that is still more than seven months away.

The long weekend offered some Granite State voters their first chance to express their preferences through a straw poll sponsored by the newly created Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers. Admission to the event, dubbed the "Presidential 2000 Primary Cookout," was by ticket, which cost $25 a head. The ticket guaranteed the bearer the right to cast one vote and eat all the burgers, hot dogs and potato salad one could ingest.

While each campaign was allowed to purchase up to 75 tickets, individuals associated with the Pat Buchanan campaign also bought blocs of tickets, which the campaign distributed free to individual supporters. In the end, 1,500 tickets were sold and 1,123 people voted.

When the ballots were finally counted, Buchanan came out on top with 646 votes or 58 percent, followed by former Reagan staffer Gary Bauer, with 235 votes. New Hampshire's GOP Sen. Bob Smith finished third with 104 votes, a lackluster showing in a state where he has twice won election to the US Senate and before that to multiple terms in the House of Representatives.

While Buchanan and Bauer put significant effort into getting out the vote for the straw poll, other campaigns ignored the event, including the George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole organizations.

"We don't pay people to vote," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said tersely when asked why the Bush campaign decided not to participate. "It was my decision," said the senator, whose political assets are a large part of the Texas governor's statewide campaign..

"We looked at our schedule and decided it didn't fit," said Jesse Devette, Dole's state campaign coordinator.

In addition to the top three vote getters, other results showed Ambassador Alan Keyes with 74 votes; former Vice President Dan Quayle, 16; Ohio Congressman John Kasich, nine; Arizona Sen. John McCain, six; former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, four and Dole, three. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch walked away empty handed, while Bush received 15 votes.

The straw poll was one of a number of events marking the holiday weekend. The return of Bush was another. The Texan limited his stay to a single day, participating in July Fourth parades in Amherst and Merrimack, where he dominated media coverage.

Dole's return to the state found her at more than a half-dozen venues. In addition to Amherst and Merrimack, the former American Red Cross president spent time in Rochester, Portsmouth, Brookline, Durham and Gilford. In Rochester, she crowned Little Mr. Sparkle and Little Miss Firecracker at a fireworks show, while sharing a chicken dinner with Rotarians in Durham, the home of the University of New Hampshire.

In Portsmouth, an oceanside city of 21,000, the pace of the Dole visit annoyed some people. Arriving nearly an hour late, the candidate flew in and out of a local arts festival.

One local woman who did not identify herself had hoped to meet Dole but couldn't, and she characterized the visit as "an affront," adding "New Hampshire is all about retail politics, where you stop and meet people. She virtually blew out of here. You'd think she would know better."

But the visit netted Dole the support of a prominent local businessman and a state representative from Manchester.

Questioned by reporters, Dole bristled at the suggestion she was really running for the second spot on the ticket and downplayed the fact that she trails Bush in the fundraising department. "Ideas are more important than money... Money alone won't win an election. Ideas and vision will."

As for the vice presidency, Dole insisted, "I'm running to win, not to be vice president." Dole also disputed the notion that she was targeting her campaign to women voters. "I want people to vote for me, not because I'm a woman, but because I'm the most qualified."

For his part, Gary Bauer, a relative newcomer to the state's primary scene, reinforced his connection to former President Ronald Reagan, for whom he served as a domestic policy advisor and under secretary of education. Bauer characterized himself as a pro-life, pro-family conservative, who will work to cut taxes and the size of government.

Bauer warned his fellow Republicans that they must remain true to the principals espoused by the former president. "There are some things so important, you have to say them again and again, even if the polls turn against you," Bauer said.

Asked about the future of the Republican Party and his role in it, Bauer insisted he is running as a Republican, but warned the party could pay a steep price if it rejects Reagan's principles at its nominating convention in Philadelphia next year.

"The elites of the party are way out of step. I don't want to give up the party to them yet," Bauer told a small gathering of Republican activists at a home in Dover, NH. "I hope we can help the party find its voice."

On George W. Bush, Bauer warned that the Texas governor's positions on China are really the Clinton-Gore positions. Bauer also faulted Bush for "caving in" to Hollywood, during a recent West Coast fundraising trip.

Asked about the Texan's commanding lead in the polls, Bauer insisted no one would be crowned and warned the GOP nomination must be earned.