GORHAM, N. H. — Pat Robertson, grinning irrepressibly after his surprise second-place finish in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, intensified his New Hampshire campaign on Wednesday, proclaiming that "I am the only conservative who is able to win the presidency."
The exultant claim was made to supporters gathered in an Assembly of God church here and at every other stop during a swing through the conservative northeastern corner of the state. It established the tone for a campaign that Robertson said would emphasize his "electability and winnability."
"There is momentum now coming out of Iowa," Robertson said.
Robertson is not projected to repeat in New Hampshire next Tuesday his stunning Iowa finish, which relegated Vice President George Bush to third place there. But his aides clearly hope he can finish at least third here, thereby severely damaging the claims of New York Rep. Jack Kemp and former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV to be the conservative challenger to Bush and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the winner in Iowa.
Robertson, the former host of the evangelical "700 Club" television show and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, continued his offensive against what he has called "religious bigotry," insisting that it is an insult to call him a "televangelist."
Robertson contends that the constant references to him as an evangelist are intended to limit his appeal among Republican Party regulars and overshadow his accomplishments in business and education.
Kerry Moody, a campaign spokesman, said Robertson probably will run ads in New Hampshire somewhat similar to one in Iowa that had pictures of Robertson and the late President John F. Kennedy. The ad contended that Robertson is facing the same kind of religious bigotry that Kennedy faced when people objected to his presidential candidacy because he was a Roman Catholic.
When a television reporter asked Wednesday why he objected to being identified as a television evangelist, Robertson asked whether the reporter would like to be called a cameraman.
Owns Cable Network
"I'm the owner and operator of the fifth largest cable network in America," Robertson said. "OK? There's a difference."
Many of the Robertson supporters who turned out at campaign gatherings in the church here and in restaurants, hotels and schools elsewhere Wednesday said they too thought the description unfair.
"With what's happening with Jim and Tammy Bakker, it's a slur to call Pat Robertson a television evangelist," said Joyce Meinhardt of Lancaster. "He's a businessman, he's a fine man, he's a religious broadcaster."
The candidate reminded those who turned out in sizable crowds in small towns that he not only had finished second in Iowa but that he had won the Republican caucus in Hawaii with 82% of the vote and had won straw polls "all over this country."
"I'm fighting the big boys," Robertson said at a hotel in Lancaster. "But I can win with your help. The conservatives up here are going to unite behind me."
Needs Credible Showing
Robertson's aides said that at least a credible showing in New Hampshire is necessary if Robertson is to retain his momentum.
"We've got to come out of here as a player," Moody said. "We can't get blown out of the water. We need a strong showing here to go south," referring to the March 8 Super Tuesday primary, which includes most of the Southern and Border states.
Apart from the new upbeat tone, the message Robertson delivered to New Hampshire supporters Wednesday was that which he has emphasized throughout his campaign.
Its central theme--"I want America to be No. 1 in the world"--was emphasized in markedly different tones at different campaign stops.
In speaking to most of the 34 registered voters in tiny Dixville Notch, always the first precinct to report its result in the New Hampshire primary, Robertson was entirely secular, focusing for the most part on foreign policy.
Discusses Soviet Policy
He compared Soviet foreign policy to a chess game and insisted that the Soviet objective was "to checkmate the king. They want a Soviet base on the North American continent.
"I want to block them cleanly and concisely wherever they appear," Robertson said. "And, finally, I want to rock the Soviets back on their heels" with aid to rebels in Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique and Nicaragua.
But, at the end of the day, in the church here where the pulpit bore a Robertson for President sign and parishioners sang the chorus of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the candidate entered, Robertson adopted the hushed tones of a preacher, quoted Scripture and delivered a more moralistic message.
"We don't have a political problem in America as much as a moral problem," Robertson said. "If the family disintegrates and falls apart, then the state and the nation are going to fall apart."
With media attention newly focused on Robertson after his surprising showing in Iowa, the candidate and his Secret Service escorts led a 20-car caravan of reporters from town to town along icy roads through the region.
Robertson took delight at each stop in jabbing at the media for underestimating him, and supporters responded enthusiastically.
"I have a favor to ask," Robertson told the church audience. "I want you to give me the pleasure of looking at the television anchormen when they have to report that Pat Robertson won New Hampshire."
The parishioners laughed, then cheered. And then, as many had responded throughout the candidate's speech, one woman murmured, "Amen."