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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 January, 2004, 01:43 GMT
Diary: Rugged Kerry woos the jocks
By Gordon Corera
BBC correspondent in New Hampshire

Stage two of the US presidential election contest is approaching, with the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Here is the first of Gordon Corera's diaries from the state.

Front-runner John Kerry was playing action man in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday afternoon.

The Vietnam veteran has a tendency to enjoy showing off his more masculine side, sometimes driving his Harley Davidson motorbike to rallies and even once onto the set of a late night TV talk show.

But today, it's ice-hockey. He is in the middle of Manchester's JFK arena in a blue shirt with "Kerry 04" on the back of it, as part of an unusual campaign event.

State-level poll to nominate a party's candidate in the general election
Held for presidential and congressional races
In some states voters are restricted to choosing candidates from the party for which they have registered support
Twenty-nine states permit "open primaries" in which a voter may back a candidate regardless of party affiliation. Strategic voting may take place with, for example, Republicans backing a perceived weaker Democratic candidate
Primaries first emerged in early 20th Century. It was argued that leaving the nomination process to party bosses was undemocratic

He is here for a special game with major players and old stars, most of whom the crowd cheers noisily when they are announced, although I have to admit to never having heard of any of them.

Kerry shows that he is able to stay on his feet and skate pretty well, although his first attack ends with a pretty weak shot.

But the senator from neighbouring Massachusetts is not really here for the fun of it.

Coming to a hockey game does two things for him.

Firstly, it reaches out to a certain sector of society who are more interested in sport than politics (we will hear a lot about so called Nascar dads this campaign season: the successor to the soccer moms of last time round, these are the men who love Nascar car racing and are a big target of both Republicans and Democrats).

Kerry is also here because he knows that playing the tough guy is his best bet to redefine his image.

Pictures of Kerry from Vietnam do remind voters of his impressive military past, but the general impression that he gives off now is "senatorial" in the sense of slightly self-important and aloof.

Meanwhile, George W Bush has perfected the folksy "I'm a regular kind of guy" routine.

Kerry's advisers know that if he is the one to take on Bush in the general election, he is going to need to work at his image to stress that he is an outdoors, action man rather than a patrician Washington insider, something which Republicans are already saying.

The battle to define his image is on - and the ice-hockey is only the start.


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