Ronald Reagan addressed a receptive crowd of close to 400 last Sunday afternoon, February 17, in the Kennett High School auditorium. The stop was one of several dozen the former governor of California has made throughout the Granite State in recent weeks in hopes of collecting enough votes to edge out his closest competitor, George Bush, in New Hampshire's February 26th primary.
On his recent swing through the North Country, Reagan was flanked by former governor Lane Dwinell, chairman of his New Hampshire campaign efforts, and Senator Gordon Humphrey. Conway Selectman William Hounsell introduced Reagan to the crowd on Sunday, which was impressive considering the short 48-hour notice for the appearance. The meeting had originally been set for February 24th.
Reagan initiated his brief speech by attacking the general "malaise" affecting America today, and asserted that President Carter gives the impression when discussing the Nation's problems "that someone else has been running the country for the last four years. It is the government that causes inflation," Reagan continues. He also decried the current administration's acceptance of deficit spending, and criticized Carter for maintaining the status quo, "which is Latin for the mess we're in," Reagan quipped.
One of Reagan's consistent themes during his campaign has been that America's energy problem is not one of shortages, rather a problem of production, and he re-emphasized this point on Sunday. "We don't have to be a victim of OPEC," he claimed. "We have to start producing U.S. oil."
Reagan also listed his presidential qualifications, including his governorship of California, asserting that during his tenure he instituted Proposition I, a sort of tax reform, and left the state with a $5 million surplus. In addition, he claims broad experience in foreign affairs, pointing out that he acted as a personal envoy abroad for several presidents.
During the course of his 30-minute visit, Reagan also discussed several of his other positions, including the draft. Generally, he is in favor of the volunteer army, and stated, "I don't think it is as defective as many people think, though it is understaffed and under equipped. I've never been in favor of the draft in times of peace," he continued, "though a buildup of the active reserves is necessary. A draft sends the wrong signals to the Soviets." Reagan also emphatically stated that women should not be drafted, a remark that drew immediate applause from the spectators.
Another of Reagan's targets was national health insurance. "We have the highest standard of medical service in the world," he claimed, asserting that authorities concede that Canada and Great Britain's national insurance system have eroded health care in those countries. "I don't think we can afford Teddy-care," Reagan said with a broad smile, though he proposed that medicare recipients be subsidized by the government to make health insurance affordable for them. In general, however, he feels that national health insurance "is just another example of the government stepping into an issue that the private sector should handle."
Like all the other prominent candidates, Reagan also fired several broadsides at Carter's foreign policy, criticizing the president for "weakness and vacillation." Afghanistan, Reagan claims, is the first instance of the U.SS.R. using their own military personnel to intervene in another country, rather than underwriting an invasion with indigenous troops. "And it was done with an arrogance that shows that they recognize their power," Reagan stated, asserting that one of his first acts as president would be "to send the Soviets signals to show that such actions will lead to a confrontation with the United States." One such action, Reagan suggested, would be naval blockade of Cuba until Russia pulls its troops out of Afghanistan.
Reagan also proposed that "the United States rebuild its military capabilities so that no one would dare perform an aggressive act against us." With that remark, the meeting ended, the crowd giving him an enthusiastic round of applause. Reagan exited for the flurry of appearances leading up to Tuesday's primary.
Until the startling Iowa Caucus, where Reagan lost a narrow decision to George Bush, the Californian has held himself aloof from such barnstorming, assuming that momentum would carry him through the early primaries. That posture changes with the balloting in Iowa, and Reagan has been stumping ever since. He surfaced Monday night to participate in one of his first face-to-face confrontations with the other presidential hopefuls. The occasion was a meeting of Go-N.H.; the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, who had invited the candidates to express their thoughts on gun control legislation. Reagan joined Bush, Baker, Connally, Dole, Jerry Brown, Crane and Lyndon LaRouche in opposing gun control, but out-did Bush's greeting "fellow members of the N.R.A." Reagan also reiterated his feelings that the solutions to crimes involving guns would be to increase the criminal penalties for those violations.
Reagan has planned several other similar appearances, including a televised debate with the six other Republican front runners on Wednesday night from Manchester, a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The second will be a one-on-one duel with George Bush on Saturday night, the 23rd, and it could be the most telling. A telephone survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire, released Tuesday the 19th, revealed that Bush led Reagan in the state by a slim 4 point margin. In 1976, Ronald Reagan fared well in the northern counties, and may again in 1980, but only the vote on Tuesday will reveal how the voters feel statewide.