For Democrats, the Road to the White House Runs Through Mary Louise Hancock's Parlor

updated 02/15/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/15/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

For the serious Democratic presidential aspirant, the interminable campaign trail has certain obligatory stops. Among them are the shuffleboard courts in Miami Beach, the John Deere factory in Des Moines, Iowa, and in Concord, N.H., the living room of Mary Louise Hancock. Obligatory? No doubt about it. During the current campaign, Michael Dukakis, Richard Gephardt, Paul Simon, Joseph Biden, Gary(and Lee) Hart, Albert (and Tipper) Gore, Bruce (and Hattie) Babbitt and Jesse Jackson have all been there to talk to Hancock and her guests—and some of them have been back more than once.

"I have a fair amount of influence," Mary Louise says forthrightly. "I know half the people in New Hampshire."

Hancock, 67, a feisty former State Senator, serves cookies and soft drinks at her gatherings, and "anyone who wants to come is absolutely welcome," she says. But she hasn't got where she is without stepping on toes. "If she's on your side, she'll give you blood," says a former Democratic state chairman, "but she has as many enemies as friends." Even foes, however, relish her bluntness. Gary Hart flunked the Hancock test, she says, because "I never could understand a man who would change his name." As for Biden: "I felt his mouth was going to get him in trouble. He was a wise guy." She calls Babbitt "an absolute love" and Jackson "a bigger draw than any of them" but considers them both unelectable. She liked Dukakis but decided in the end to endorse Gore. "He delved into the issue of arms control so thoroughly, plus he has great concern about the ozone layer," she says. "And he's very polite, very Southern. I talk to him the way his mother would."

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