Daniel Webster would have found a kindred spirit in Bob Dole. The former, a 19th-century lawyer and public official, was a no-nonsense legislator who was proud of his New Hampshire roots. Webster wouldn't compromise on an important principle, which may have cost him the presidency more than once. He waxed eloquent on a variety of subjects familiar to Dole, including the nobility of farming: "When tillage begins, other arts follow," Webster said. "The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization."

The latter, a 20th-century lawyer, Republican Senate leader and son of a grain elevator operator, also hopes to be elected president without trading principles for the office.

Dole was in Daniel Webster's stomping grounds last week, trying to close the gap in New Hampshire between him and Vice President Bush in this crucial primary state. The senator invited Dale Van Atta to share the plane ride to the Granite State. Ask any question, he said. It was a marked contrast to Bush, who has refused to sit down for an interview with us for more than a year. His aides said that if we gave him questions in advance, he might consider it. Bush appears to wall himself off from the national media, or to engage in verbal fisticuffs with network luminaries.

Dole says he does not shy away from the press. "I guess I've got a lot more experience," he said. "I learned in what we call the 'dugout' -- going out there every day {as Senate minority leader}, meeting about 30 press people who ask the tough questions. I got a lot of practice. Now, I don't always like what they write, but that isn't the question."

As for the Bush-Dan Rather bout, Dole thought the flap afterward was overdone."

Dole's first stop, in Laconia, was Wolfeboro Junior High School, where he and his wife, Elizabeth, worked the crowd in tandem. She contrasted her husband with Bush, saying Dole is "running on a record, not a resume." Dole echoed: "When President Reagan needs something done, he calls Bob."

Next stop was the New Medico Highwatch Rehabilitation Center at Center Ossipee, where Dole talked about health care, the elderly and the disabled. The message goes over well from the man with a right hand rendered useless by a wound he received in World War II.

The final stop for the night was Kennett High School in Conway. Dole spoke about the federal deficit, all $2.5 trillion of it, and the $200 billion a year in interest. He offered his plan -- a simple spending freeze for his first year as president, during which he would work with Congress to make permanent changes, program by program.

"As far as I know, Bush doesn't have any plan," Dole had said earlier on the plane. "I think he ignores {the deficit}. He doesn't want people to know that the debt's almost tripled in seven years" that Bush has been the vice president.

On the same date, 158 years earlier, Daniel Webster had offered a landmark speech that concluded with the famed pre-Civil War invocation: "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." What is overlooked is that in the same speech, he disavowed an earlier doctrine of Alexander Hamilton that "a national debt . . . will be to us a national blessing."