Buchanan's jobs crusade hits a nerve

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The Independent Online

Littleton, New Hampshire

Like a lot of people here in New Hampshire's north country, under the shadows of the majestic White Mountains, Scott Farquharson depends on lumber for his living.

For 34 years, his Sweetwood Handle Company has made paintbrush handles for artists and the cosmetics industry. It has been a good business, but poorer than it might have been without low-cost competition from Asia.

With 20 employees and an inexhaustible supply of local beech, maple and birch, Mr Farquharson turns out roughly 12 million handles a year. The onslaught from China, Taiwan and Japan started in the early Seventies and now the Asian manufacturers have 75 per cent of the American market. Mr Farquharson, who has seen his customer-base ravaged, is only one of three US handle-makers to have survived. "I've had to compete like crazy,"

On this night, with a heavy snow falling, Mr Farquharson, 54, has closed the workshop early to get into town - recently voted the ninth prettiest community in America. He wants to catch a rally in the town's opera house, addressed by Pat Buchanan, the rabble rousing journalist turned rabble rousing politician. It is not Mr Buchanan's far-right stance on social issues like immigration, abortion and homosexuality that interests the mild Mr Farquharson; he disapproves of it. He has come to listen to the other plank of Mr Buchanan's message: about the economy, cor porate greed and, of course, about the iniquities of free trade. "I am for free trade," Mr Farquharson says, "but I understand where Buchanan is coming from." One opinion poll yesterday put Mr Buchanan in a dead-heat with Senator Bob Dole and the former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, in Tuesday's crucial New Hampshire presidential primary. According to the Boston Herald-WCVB-TV poll, New Hampshire voters are hopelessly divided on whom they want as Republican candidate against President Bill Clinton in November: 23 per cent support Dole; 22 per cent are rooting for Buchanan;19 per cent for Alexander; and 13 per cent (and falling) behind the millionaire pu blisher Steve Forbes. Mr Buchanan is in his element in the Littleton Opera House, a large and sagging 100-year-old clapboard structure on Main Street, which also accommodates the town's police station. Addressing the sweeping balcony and gilt mouldings, Mr Buchanan describes his cause as "conservatism with a heart". The abortion rhetoric is still there, but these days there is an increasingly populist, even left-wing, side to Mr Buchanan. He rails against the North American Free Trade Area and the World Trade Organisation an d he berates corporate giants like AT&T for putting profits and shareholders before workers. His targets tonight are the mega-banks of New York, whom he accuses of pocketing the money from the US government's $50bn bail-out of the Mexican economy last ye ar. "I concede the point, I am a protectionist," Mr Buchanan quips. "I believe we have to protect the American worker from being displaced by foreigners who are working for a dollar an hour. I plead guilty. Other people want to protect Wall Street - Chase Ma nhattan and Citibank and Goldman Sachs." They are words that resonate in this theatre and across New Hampshire. On paper, the state has recovered sharply from its economic blues of four years ago - unemployment is negligible now - but wages in real terms are still declining and voters express c ontinuing anxiety about their prospects. As Mr Farquharson says: "I don't think things have changed much at all. Most of the jobs are MacDonald-type jobs and I don't think people feel secure at all." Mr Buchanan is, meanwhile, threatening to open a new and dangerous split within his party. Already the other candidates are stepping back from the party's traditional commitment to free trade and some, including Bob Dole, are starting even to mimic his p arries against the corporations. By doing so, they risk alienating the party's oldest and most powerful friends. New lines in Mr Dole's stump speeches this week, raising doubts about the power of Wall Street, have not gone unnoticed by Mr Buchanan. "Isn't it amazing," he chuckles here. "What are Bob's friends going to say to him when he goes back to DC. 'Hey Bob, w hat are you trying to do to us?' " That the Dole camp is worried about Mr Buchanan is evident in the new TV advertisement he has begun airing in the state. "He's too extreme," the narrator intones, pointing to past statements by the commentator proposing arming the South Koreans withnucl ear weapons and suggesting that women do not have the intellectual drive to be as ambitious as men. Such attacks against the electability of Mr Buchanan may well prove potent. In the meantime, however, the conservative commentator, who is by miles the most entertaining of the Republican speakers on the stump, continues to draw large crowds and is revel ling in the attention. "When I was a child I wanted to be a journalist, a syndicated columnist and I wanted to be controversial," he tells the Littleton audience. "And I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams."