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Republican gubernatorial candidate Gordon Humphrey was on the ropes last week, falling in the polls and pounded by relentless radio and television ads attacking his record in the US Senate. Vowing to fight back, Humphrey blamed his slide on a "cynical, unprincipled, callous smear campaign against me" by his Democratic opponent, Governor Jeanne Shaheen, saying ". . . it's shocking, it's reprehensible, it's ugly, it's disgusting, Governor Shaheen owes us all an apology."
Shaheen, needless to say, was not about to back off. "These are the positions that he took," Shaheen told reporters. "That's not a smear campaign, that's letting the voters of the state know what his positions were on the issues. If I had that record, maybe I wouldn't want the people of New Hampshire to know either."
Humphrey, once in a statistical tie with Shaheen and now lagging in two polls by as much as 19 points, demanded that she pull one ad in particular. In that ad, he said, Shaheen's campaign took comments out of context to scare senior citizens into thinking Humphrey wanted to eliminate Social Security benefits. The ad also says he voted against a prescription drug benefit for seniors.
In his own defense, Humphrey produced a copy of a 1978 newspaper interview in which he said Social Security could be eliminated in 50 years, after commitments to all current enrollees were honored. His statements caused an intense attack at the time from Democrats, according to a report then in the now-defunct New Hampshire Times.
As to the claim in Shaheen's ad that he once said "there are a lot of people for whom Social Security is pin money," Humphrey insists it's clear from the 1982 article that he was referring to the wealthy. The Times noted that the statement had "caused Humphrey grief again," and prompted him to explain himself by saying he'd been speaking "off the cuff."
"He said what he said," said Shaheen campaign spokesman Judy Reardon last week. She added that the planned airtime for the ad has expired and it's no longer running.
Both camps angrily squabbled last week over the legislative history of Humphrey's vote on prescription coverage for seniors. Humphrey insisted the entire Senate had voted against it; Shaheen's camp was equally adamant that Humprhey has consistently opposed it.
Humphrey acknowledged his campaign has been damaged by the overall attack on his voting record, which the Shaheen operation has escalated as the campaign moves into its final two weeks. A new poll of 680 likely voters conducted between Oct. 5 and 13 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center gave Shaheen 49 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for Humphrey.
During 12 years in the US Senate and two in the state Senate, Humphrey said he cast thousands of votes, which makes him vulnerable to attack, compounded by "frankly some rash statements that a 38- or 40-year-old guy makes who is only learning the ropes."
"Smears work," he said. "Smears damage your opponent, force your oppponent to explain himself and the truth never catches up with the smear."
Reardon, the Shaheen campaign spokesman, derided Humphrey's complaints. "He cast a ton of votes against Social Security while he was in the US Senate. He was consistently against cost of living increases and wanted to increase the eligibility age to 68. He's been very hostile to Social Security," she said.
Earlier the same day, while Humphrey was at a low-key, "Voters Voice" forum at Concord High School, leaders of women's rights organizations supporting Shaheen held a press conference at the Capitol in which they labeled Humphrey an extremist who once called battered women's shelters anti-family "indoctrination centers." They cited his support in 1998 for anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, who once said doctors who perform abortions should be executed. Humphrey has since said he made a mistake.
Humphrey has tried to inoculate himself against the Shaheen campaign's assault on his record, highlighting his environmental votes, particularly one helping to establish the Seacoast's Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He also launched a television ad in which he notes that we have all said things at one time that we wish we hadn't. As to his comment on domestic violence centers, Humphrey said he couldn't remember the context, "but if I literally said it, I wish I hadn't."
Shaheen is "banging me over the head repeatedly for refusing to spend money we didn't have," Humphrey said the other day when the governor attacked him for a vote against highway improvements. He points to hard economic times during the years when he was a lawmaker and says that when he started in politics he promised to be "the toughest skinflint" around.
But he also said that, with the benefit of hindsight, there are some votes he wishes he had not cast, such as his vote against the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the law didn't result in undue burdens or litigation and "worked out rather well . . . " Humphrey's statement came several weeks after disabilities rights advocates hammered him with criticism when he showed up at their press conference unannounced and tried to make a case for himself. He later took a tour around Concord with a disabled person and says he has a new sensistivity to the issue.
Asked if the now 60-year-old Humphrey is a different man from the "brash" 38-year-old who showed up in Washington in 1978, Humphrey said, "You get what you see with Gordon Humphrey." Is he apologizing for his record? No, he said, "I think on the whole I did a really good job."
Woman in ad says she's no one's tool
So, how about that "sweet old lady" Humphrey says Shaheen "shamelessly featured" in the Social Security ad talking about "pin money?" She is 86-year-old Mary Hussey of Manchester, a Democrat, former N.H. House member and Shaheen fan who says "I have a mind of my own and I use it."
"I'm familiar with his record in Washington because I was of that age that I would be retiring pretty soon," Hussey told us last week about Humphrey's years in the US Senate in the late 1970s and 1980s. A longtime dietician, Hussey said she took no payment for the ad, which did bring her a lot of telephone calls, including some from her classmates in the Class of 1933 at Central High.
"That's ridiculous," said Hussey about Humphrey's charge that Shaheen had used her to distort his record. "If he knew me he'd know nobody manipulates me, even my family."
McCainiacs get their photo ops
Is a picture with John McCain worth any votes in an election for the New Hampshire state Senate? Who knows? Even the Arizona senator had some doubts. But the icon of the politically independent set was back in the state last week, so Republican state Senate hopefuls and other loyal McCainiacs, as they call themselves, lined up for a photo shoot with him last week in Concord at the Hampton Inn.
"In the interest of straight talk, I think a lot of times endorsements are overrated," said McCain, who rode a bus called "The Straight Talk Express" to his upset victory here in the presidential primary. "They give some comfort to the candidate but I'm not sure that transfers much into votes."
After all, independents are, well, independent, McCain said. But no matter. This was a place of former glory, after all, and McCain was happy to be back.
McCain was the main attraction at an event for one of his early supporters, Executive Councilor Peter Spaulding, and he had a few supportive words for the man who defeated him for the right to run for president, Texas Governor George W. Bush (he planned to be back later in the week to campaign with him). But this visit was really McCain's time to be nostalgic, although he didn't go too far.
He told the crowd in the hotel lobby that it was "wonderful to see dear and old friends, " even the "Land Shark," a guy in a shark costume who followed McCain around during the campaign, sponsored by Citizens for a Sound Economy, a grass-roots lobbying group for free markets and limited government. (Last week's shark, Jason Cushing of Northwood, declared it was "very hot" inside his suit.) Those on hand included former Governor Walter Petersen, another early McCain supporter, Congressman Charles Bass (earlier in the day Bass, who is running for a fourth term, was at Dartmouth with McCain and state Senate candidate Jim
Rubens) and US Sen. Bob Smith, who ran his own very short-lived presidential campaign. Bass, by the way, supported Bush during the primary but also has taken every opportunity to align himself with the ever popular McCain.
Before he left, McCain, who wears a bandage and has a thin scar down the length of one cheek from recent skin cancer surgery, was asked how he felt. "Fine, thanks, fine" he said, adding a warning about the dangers of fair skin and too much sun.
A final word was had by Jarvis Coffin of Hancock, whose wife Bobbi was a McCain delegate to the GOP convention.
"We miss you," he told McCain.
Once again, N.H.
called key state
Yes, New Hampshire, with just four votes in the Electoral College, is now considered a key state in the presidential sweeps. According to Time magazine, 201 crucial votes from 18 states are still in play. All the others - 192 Electoral College votes for Vice President Al Gore, 145 for Bush - are solid, Time says. So every remaining vote counts.
And the race here is tight: according to the UNH Survey Center, Gore has 43 percent of the vote here, compared with 39 percent for Bush, 7 percent for consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, and 3 percent for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. The margin of error was 3.8 percent.