Bill Bradley, whose insurgent aura has gone into hibernation just as the voting is about to begin, returned briefly to New Hampshire today in an effort to revive the excitement that seems to have cooled here.

Bradley, while acknowledging that Monday's caucuses in Iowa will be tough, said he is confident of recovering in the Granite State in time for the primary on Feb. 1.

"I don't think that there will be a direct connection--I think that New Hampshire voters are independent," said Bradley, a former senator from New Jersey. "There a lot of people here who've known me for a long time, either because they're from New Jersey, New York or Massachusetts, or they knew me from New Hampshire. So it's a totally different challenge."

Late last year, Bradley's strategists became convinced that he had a chance of rattling Gore early and decided that Bradley would spend much of January in Iowa instead of shuttling more frequently between the two states. That has proved costly, since polls indicate he has made little headway there and his New Hampshire troops, once giddy, have grown restless and worried. While some polls here still show him ahead, others show Gore up or the race tied.

Opportunities here have been lost. New Hampshire sources say Bradley, who lags far behind Gore among female voters, had considered holding a big event with women athletes to call attention to his work defending Title IX, which requires equal funding for women's athletic programs. But there wound up being too little time, the sources said.

According to a tally kept by Hotline, the online political journal, Bradley has spent 57 days in Iowa and 41 days in New Hampshire since March 15. Gore has split his time more evenly, with 39 days in Iowa and 36 here. This afternoon, Bradley left New Hampshire and flew back to Iowa, where he plans a four-day bus tour.

Mark Longabaugh, Bradley's New Hampshire director, has become a morale officer. He said he told a staff meeting on Tuesday, "Hey, look: Bill Bradley's counting on us, and we have to give him the best we've got." Longabaugh said he has taken to reminding key supporters that candidates have finished third in Iowa and then won New Hampshire.

For the second day in a row, Bradley was asked this morning whether his campaign is over. "That's, I guess, a spin that's out there," Bradley told reporters. "It sounds to me like a wish from the other side and not the reality that I see out there every day, and certainly not the reality of any careful analysis of where the campaign's going to go."

Bradley's remarks followed what his aides called one of the most moving moments of the campaign. Bradley, speaking at a preschool learning center, fought back tears after a mother who is raising four sons without health insurance told him that one of them had apologized for getting a sore throat. "Sometimes it's important when reality enters a political campaign," Bradley said.

The mother, Cathy Perry, of Pelham, N.H., had been recruited to speak for Bradley after she called his New Hampshire headquarters to find out about his plan to provide health insurance for all children.

Bradley's staff is so concerned about premature obituaries that when reporters began chattering about Bradley's tears, one aide asked with alarm, "It wasn't an Ed Muskie moment?" That was a reference to Democratic presidential candidate Muskie's emotional reaction in Manchester, N.H., in 1972 to an editorial about his wife, Jane. The outburst is considered to have doomed his unraveling campaign.

It was just the opposite elsewhere in New Hampshire, where the vice president collected the endorsement of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), sipped hot cocoa with rosy-cheeked children and received some free coaching from documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Despite claims of being the underdog in the primary, Gore carried an air of confidence today. "I'm content to leave my faith with the voters in the Democratic primary and in the contests that will decide this nomination," he told reporters in Lebanon.

"He's winning it," said Peter Hoe Burling, the Democratic leader in the New Hampshire state house. Then, realizing he had strayed from the lower-the-expectations game being played by both campaigns, he added: "I'm trying not to get too overconfident."

Privately, Gore's advisers put the race here in a statistical dead heat, so even in his absence, the New Hampshire team has flooded the state with a steady stream of newsmakers, including Commerce Secretary William Daley, who will travel the state trumpeting the administration's economic successes.

"He's outspent us, $1.8 million in TV to our $800,000, but we've out-organized," said press secretary Doug Hattaway, noting that the Gore team contacted 303,000 New Hampshire households on the phone or in person.

The vice president's tour today in part targeted Bradley strongholds, such as the Hanover-Lebanon region, home to Dartmouth College and its well-educated, upper-income voters. But much of the schedule was designed to place Gore in front of the most scenic backdrops. In snow-dusted Walpole, a picturesque village of 8,000, Burns directed more than a dozen of his workers to stand on a porch next to Tole's Variety store so they would be in the camera shot when Gore came out.

There was at least anecdotal evidence to suggest Gore's campaigning is working. Two undecided voters said after riding with Gore on his bus that they are likely to vote for him. "The way he looked at us and the vibes he gives off, I decided he was genuine," said Jenny Krinsky, 47, a homemaker from Marlborough.

Connolly reported from Lebanon, N.H.

CAPTION: Vice President Gore visits the Children's Center of the Upper Valley in Lebanon, N.H., on a tour of areas where Bill Bradley might be strong.