Conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan has accepted an invitation from New Hampshire Republicans to be the keynote speaker at their annual meeting Wednesday, about 13 months before that state's first-in-the-nation primary.

Buchanan, a former White House aide, is one of several prominent conservatives who have been speaking out against President Bush's tax and budget policies as well as his strategy in the Persian Gulf crisis, prompting speculation about a conservative primary challenge to Bush next year.

New Hampshire GOP Chairman Rhona Charbonneau said "there is not much of a movement up here" for a challenge to Bush, adding that this week's event is not a "kickoff for the election year or a draft-Pat Buchanan kickoff."

Nevertheless, Buchanan was the choice of New Hampshire Gov. Judd Gregg (R), who is unhappy with Bush's tax flip-flop and has blamed White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu for the defeat in November of then-Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.). Buchanan also has been getting a push from New Hampshire's major newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Democrats, having been turned down by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), have engaged commentator and former State Department official Hodding Carter III to address their annual dinner Feb. 15.