New Hampshire voters worried about US image

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CANTERBURY, N.H., Oct 12 (Reuters) As US presidential candidates descend on New Hampshire before the 2008 election, some voters say they want someone who can restore America's image abroad after years of unpopular foreign policy under President George W Bush.

With this pretty, rural town hosting Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for a campaign speech, residents said yesterday it would take a skilled diplomat to reverse the perception abroad that the United States cared little about working with them to solve international problems.

''It's going to take a long time, a really long time,'' said Democrat John Scarponi, 37, an insurance salesman.

Scarponi said he had yet to decide whom to support in the New Hampshire primary expected in January that kicks off the race for the November 2008 presidential election, but he thought former first lady Clinton might be right for the job.

''She's got more experience in the White House than anyone running. She knows international diplomacy,'' Scarponi said.

Playing to what many perceive as a strength, New York Sen Clinton listed foreign policy as her first priority in a speech to supporters gathered in a barn at a village orchard.

''President Bush's policies have alienated our friends and emboldened our enemies,'' said Clinton, who leads her rivals in national polls and in New Hampshire.

''I want to restore American leadership around the world ... The era of cowboy diplomacy is over,'' Clinton told the 200-strong crowd to applause.

Analysts said foreign policy and diplomacy may be an area where Democrats can peel off Republican voters or independents unhappy with Bush's policies as the United States struggles with war in Iraq, the nuclear aspirations of Iran and the rise of anti-US leaders in Latin America.

''From a political point of view, the Democrats can criticize the Republicans on the decline in the image of America,'' said Andrew Kohut, president of Washington-based Pew Research Center.

A Pew survey released in June found the US image remained abysmal in most Muslim countries in the West Aisa and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America's oldest allies, including Britain and Canada.

But New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen said America's image abroad was not a priority.

''I don't think what other countries think of us, on the republican side, is a high concern at all. In fact I think Republicans could care less about what America's image is in other countries,'' Cullen said.

CRITICISM ABROAD New Hampshire voter Bill Anderson, 60, said he had felt an anti-American chill when he traveled to France in recent years -- confessing he would introduce himself by saying ''Je n'aime pas George Bush (I don't like Bush).'' ''I don't think you can win many friends with a big stick,'' added the staunch Democrat. He said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a ''crazy man'' but that provoking him was not the way to keep the peace.

''Diplomacy makes more sense. When you respect people and don't invade countries you get more friends,'' said Anderson, a money manager. He had yet to decide whether to support Clinton or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the primary, the winner of which traditionally gains vital early momentum in the election.

But not all New Hampshire voters believe changing foreign policy is the way to go, saying dislike of America overseas was perhaps inevitable.

''You can only do so much. It's a jealous world. They're jealous of our freedom and our riches,'' said part-time teacher Carolyn French-Witham, 46. French-Witham said she was an independent voter and still undecided whether to support a Democrat or a Republican next November.

After Clinton's speech, Democrat Rob Riley, 35, said her strong international experience was appealing.

''I think we have an important role to play and that has been seriously hindered over the last eight years,'' he said. While the other candidates had good global perspective, Riley said Clinton ''does have the edge.'' Clinton herself dismissed the idea raised by one questioner that as the first woman president she would not have enough ''testosterone'' to run an effective foreign policy.

''I've been asked a lot of things, I've never been asked that before,'' she said to laughter. ''I think it (a woman president) will be viewed positively, but I also think it will serve as a symbol of the way the United States has worked across our history -- we're always knocking down barriers.'' REUTERS PD KN1743

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