BRAKING FOR MOOSE, TRACKING ELEPHANTS 3 DAYS ON GOP CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

BRAKING FOR MOOSE, TRACKING ELEPHANTS 3 DAYS ON GOP CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

I spent three days tracking Republican presidential candidates through New Hampshire. Here is a day-by-day account of my travels.

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SUNDAY, SEPT. 24. I fly into Manchester Airport, pick up my rental car and head for a downtown neighborhood where Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is to make a brief campaign stop at a former drug zone.

The area looks seedy, and some of the streets are unpaved. As I drive up, I watch two cops arresting a young woman wearing a baseball cap. Around the corner, I spot a TV truck, a horde of reporters - and Sen. Dole.

He's standing in front of what used to be a crack house. But neighborhood residents, working with city and state officials, have apparently cleaned out the criminals. Sen. Dole says the project is an example of what local people can do without federal money.

"Unless you get the people involved, the grass roots, it's not going to happen," he says. "When you have the community leadership involved, you're going to get results. And our message is, give this power back to the states, give it back to the people. They know what to do better."

I edge past the TV cameras and ask a question about trade. "Nobody's asked me about trade on the campaign trail," Sen. Dole says. But he answers me anyway.

After that, I drive to Littleton in the northwest corner of the state. Around 8 p.m., I make my way to a private home where conservative commentator Pat Buchanan is to address a town meeting. I know I'm in the right place when I see the bumper stickers outside: "Visualize No Liberals: Buchanan '96" and ''Veterans for North." As in Oliver.

I wait outside for Mr. Buchanan with a film crew from NBC's "Today Show" and several local reporters. Suddenly, the candidate arrives with his press secretary, Greg Mueller, and a busy and obnoxious group of photographers from AP, Newsweek and Time. The NBC lights go on and the "event" begins.

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MONDAY, SEPT. 25. Mr. Buchanan and his wife Shelley kick off their day with a quick visit to the "Titles & Tales" bookstore owned by the host of last night's town meeting, Bob Cook. He specializes in used books and tells me he gives $3 discounts to conservatives (reporters don't qualify).

Poking around, I discover an original copy of all four volumes of the Pentagon Papers, on sale for $10. I fork out the money and tell Mr. Cook I've been looking for these books for years. "When I was in the White House, we had a hard time finding them, too," laughs Mr. Buchanan (who was working for President Nixon when the papers were leaked by Daniel Ellsburg.)

At 11 a.m., Mr. Buchanan unveils a campaign billboard on a rural road near Jefferson, as 50 high school students from a local Christian school wave American flags. He promises to "return conservative values to Washington, D.C."

Just as his van is about to leave, the "Today Show" crew pulls up. Mr. Mueller agrees to re-enact the unveiling, and the canopy over the billboard goes back on. This time, the students shout "Go, Pat, Go!" NBC gets the shot.

Later, I drive south to Lincoln to hear a speech by Sen. Phil Gramm. On the way, I spot my first road sign warning me to "brake for moose." I don't pay much attention; but a few miles further, I see a car with its top smashed in. Next to it is a sign reading "This is what a moose can do: slow down." I do.

In Lincoln, Sen. Gramm tells a group of timberland owners he's committed to limiting federal controls over private property, which he calls "the original conservation movement." He gets a big ovation.

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TUESDAY, SEPT. 26. I drive to Berlin, site of the Crown and Vantage Paper Mill where Mr. Buchanan is scheduled to greet employees later in the day. About 40 miles out, I finally spot my first - and only - moose of the trip.

On Berlin's Main Street, I practically run into Mr. Buchanan's van and his entourage of reporters. We take notes as Mr. Buchanan, who's wearing a blue work shirt and jeans, greets diners at the Northland Dairy Bar.

He laughs when a woman says she likes to watch him on CNN's Crossfire. "I hope you don't like Michael Kinsley, too," Mr. Buchanan says of his fellow columnist.

Later, another reporter and I come back for coffee. One of the waitresses tells us she was offended because Mr. Buchanan didn't talk to any of the help. ''I guess he doesn't think we're important," she says.

About 70 people show up at the town meeting in Shelburne that night. "I believe in American capitalism," Mr. Buchanan tells them. "We need policies and ideas and people who are looking out for America and America first."

With that message ringing in my ears, I take my leave. It's been a long three days.