MANCHESTER, N.H. – Tom Daschle, once the most important Democrat in the Senate, tested a possible appeal to New Hampshire voters Thursday to make him the most important Democrat in 2008.
The former three-term senator, who is considering a White House bid, excoriated President Bush in a speech to local New Hampshire Democrats, arguing that the chief executive and his administration "have got to be the most arrogant crowd I ever worked with."
Daschle criticized Bush for launching the war in Iraq, secret domestic wiretapping and a national debt that he argued will be passed on to future generations. He complained that the administration is too cozy with oil companies and has ignored the threat of global warming.
No longer constrained by the politics of his heavily Republican state, the former South Dakota senator has been free to rail against the administration since he lost his Senate seat to Republican John Thune in 2004.
Daschle denied that he has moved to the left since leaving office, arguing that his former constituents would agree with him. "I think South Dakotans are far more aware of many of the problems created by this administration than they were two years ago," he said.
The former Senate Minority leader spoke to a crowd of more than 100 Democrats, many state legislators and city officials, and received several standing ovations, hoots and hollers.
Still, several Democrats said prior to the event that they were surprised when they heard Daschle was coming to the early primary state.
"I hadn't heard he was on the list of those way out in front," said state Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen.
Several Democrats have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates, and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is considered the front-runner based on fundraising and party connections.
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Daschle had distorted Bush's record.
"Much like New Hampshire Democrats, Tom Daschle leaves us less than impressed and bewildered that a failed Senate candidate would consider himself a legitimate presidential contender," McLear said.
Several Democrats said they were impressed with Daschle, who spoke of his family's Russian immigrant heritage and the race he lost two years ago. "You could hear a pin drop," Larsen said after he spoke. "He has a remarkable sense of caring and speaking from the heart."
State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro agreed.
"I don't think there's any question that he's a contender," he said.
But not everyone was impressed.
Shannon Graham, a 21-year-old teacher and recent college graduate, said she preferred former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and the speech he delivered to the state Democratic convention last weekend. He had the "right combination of idealism and solutions," Graham said.
"Daschle had the idealism, he just needs the concrete side of it," Graham said. "He was kind of up in the clouds, I think."
Daschle said he will make his decision on 2008 before the end of the year. New Hampshire Democrats expect to see him again.
"You have to wow us and impress us and talk to us a few times," Graham said.