Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon came to New England this week to announce that he was not running for president.
He could just as well have done that in Washington, or back home in Oregon. But hardly anyone would have paid attention.
Packwood, after all, is a moderate Republican, an endangered species in a party increasingly dominated by conservatives.
In Washington he is a man out of step with his party, ignored by his president and rejected for leadership by his colleagues.
But on the road Packwood is a novelty. Business chieftains, Jewish leaders, members of Congress, state legislators, the press and especially feminist leaders want to know what he has to say.
"I'm leaving everyone with the same message: the Republican Party cannot continue to write off women and minorities if it wants to survive," he said here.
"I want to lay the groundwork so Republican candidates will feel it is in their best interest to support the issues I'm talking about, and it's even dangerous not to support these issues."
Packwood, one of President Reagan's most vocal GOP critics, had planned a six-day swing through early primary states, including New Hampshire. But he interrupted his trip today to return to Oregon for the funeral of former governor Tom McCall. In doing so, Packwood scrapped his visit to New Hampshire, the most intriguing part of his quixotic journey.
Elizabeth Hagar, who managed John B. Anderson's Republican primary campaign in that state in 1980, had planned a morning coffee for Packwood in her Concord home.
"I was flabbergasted in the intense interest in him," she said, adding that she had expected more than 100 people to attend.
"We in New Hampshire always like a chance to meet all the candidates, and we poor moderate Republicans don't have many people to listen to anymore."
Packwood, ousted last month as chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he hoped to reschedule his trip to New Hampshire.
"I'll come to Concord because you'll cover me there and not in Washington," he told reporters. "I'm fully aware that no matter what I say people will think, 'Well, maybe he's running for president.' "
"I'm also aware 1983 is the only year I can do it," the third-term senator added. "I can make the same trip to Concord in a year and a half and speak until I'm blue in the face and nobody will listen."
Packwood is clearly frustrated with his place in a minority within the Republican Party. His trip was designed to establish himself as a spokesman for women's issues and the moderate wing of the party.
The crowds were impressive everywhere he went during two days of events in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Packwood, a leading opponent of the sale of AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes and equipment to Saudi Arabia, received a long standing ovation from more than 400 people at the Hartford Jewish Federation, where he was introduced as "one of the leading supporters of Israel in Congress."
Seventy-five women attended a reception here Tuesday night that was organized by the Women's Equity Action League. Packwood, a leading proponent of legalized abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, was introduced as "a beer-drinker and a feminist."
Another 75 women, including newly elected Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.) and several state representatives, turned up at an early morning meeting in Hartford organized by the local chapters of the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Kathy Grady, coordinator of the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, a pro-choice group, tried to persuade Packwood to run for president.
"I have this fantasy that he'd beat Reagan in the New Hampshire primary, and Reagan would withdraw from the race like President Johnson did in 1968," she said.
Packwood repeatedly denied any interest in the presidency, but he was accompanied by five Senate aides who recorded the names, addresses and party affiliations of those who attended the events.
He also avoided attacking Reagan by name. Instead, he directed his criticism at the administration and the Republican Party. On a radio talk show, for example, he said:
"We have given the impression to working people that we don't care. We've given the impression to women that we don't care. We've almost told minorities, 'the heck with you.' "