MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE: For Pat Buchanan, the news could not have come at a worse time. With polls showing him running a strong second to Bob Dole, Thursday night's debate was supposed to be his chance shine before a national television audience and claim the lead. Instead, he spent precious time during the day addressing allegations that his campaign co-chairman Larry Pratt had appeared as a speaker at white supremacist and militia events. Pratt announced he would step down, at least for now, to fight charges that he appeared at a number of such events. The thorniest issue was an allegation that Pratt spoke at a 1992 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado that was headlined by Pete Peters, leader of a group that its critics say supports violence to promote white supremacy. Others on the bill included former Ku Klux Klan leader and Aryan Nation official Louis Bream and Aryan Nations Founder Richard Butler. Buchanan stood by his manager, quickly calling a press conference where he relayed Pratt's denial of the allegations, and said he believed Pratt. "Buchanan will try to keep attention away from Pratt and focused on his themes of national economic problems and stagnant wages that have played well in New Hampshire," says TIME's Nina Burleigh. For a candidate already hounded by new Dole ads charging that his views are too extreme, that may not be easy.