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Schilling backs off plan to stump for GOP in N.H.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- World Series hero Curt Schilling backed out of plans to campaign for President Bush at two events in New Hampshire yesterday, saying he was wrong to endorse Bush on national television and had not been cleared by doctors to participate in campaign activities.

The cancellation was an embarrassment for a campaign that had touted the chance to appear with the Red Sox star two days after the team captured its first championship in 86 years.

Campaign aides at Bush's Virginia campaign headquarters shared high-fives Thursday after Schilling said "vote Bush" on "Good Morning America." They quickly invited him to join Bush on the trail in the hopes he would counterbalance Senator John F. Kerry's use of Bruce Springsteen and other celebrities.

Schilling issued a statement yesterday referring to his injured ankle and saying he was not "medically cleared to do anything until I see Doc on Sunday." He also gave another reason for changing his mind: His real message, he said, is that's important to vote, not necessarily to vote for Bush.

"While I am a Bush supporter, and I did vote for him with an absentee ballot, speaking as I did the other day [on television] was wrong," Schilling said in the statement. "While I hope to see him reelected, it's not my place, nor the time for me to offer up my political opinions unsolicited. I am proud we have the right to vote, and the message I wanted to send but didn't was that, regardless of who you are voting for, the bottom line is that you must vote."

Schilling's no-show was a profound disappointment for many who rose before dawn in the hopes of seeing the pitcher up close at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

"It's a bummer that he's not going to be here," said Carl Hall, a 29-year-old equity manager from the North End who took the day off work and wore a red Schilling jersey to the event. "It's too bad, but at least we know he is for him."

Schilling's move prompted rounds of speculation among Republicans and sports fans that Red Sox owners pressed the pitcher to back out.

Glenn Geffner, director of public relations for the Red Sox, said he asked general manager Theo Epstein if anyone in the organization said anything to Schilling after his comments about Bush.

"No, not at all," Geffner quoted Epstein as saying. "Nobody here said anything to him." Geffner added, "People here understand the First Amendment."

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner has been stumping for Kerry in New Hampshire and Maine. One of Kerry's top campaign strategists, John Sasso, helped the ball club navigate State House politics during the extended negotiations about a possible replacement for Fenway Park in 2000.

Whatever the reasons, the Schilling cancellation was an unwelcome distraction on a day that the Bush campaign hoped to surround itself in celebrity star power. And it turned out to be just the first snafu of a rocky campaign event in Manchester. The rally was disrupted by nine protesters, who were dragged out, and confetti burst down from the rafters a few minutes early, with a loud explosion occurring while Bush was still talking.

Campaign aides said Schilling contacted the campaign through his agent shortly after midnight yesterday to say he would not attend. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president appreciates Schilling's support and wishes him the best.

The campaign was able to salvage its evening rally in Columbus, Ohio, with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

But that event came together only after Schwarzenegger made it known that he had balked at appearing at more than one rally. Plus, his standing alongside Bush called attention to the social issues on which the two Republicans disagree: Last week Schwarzenegger backed a ballot measure that would have California taxpayers fund fetal stem-cell research, a position Bush opposes.

Bob Hohler and Anne E. Kornblut of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Rick Klein can be reached by e-mail at rklein@globe.com.

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