Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt trounced Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis Tuesday in a hard-fought, head-to-head showdown in the South Dakota Democratic presidential primary election.
But Dukakis overpowered other Democratic challengers in the other Tuesday contest, the caucuses in Minnesota, a state Gephardt did not emphasize.
Bush Sidesteps Contests
In fact, Dole had been so strong in the region that Vice President George Bush sidestepped the contests and former religious broadcaster Pat Robertson devoted less effort than some had expected.
For the Democrats, the state of South Dakota, a tiny population of not quite 750,000 people, became the best two-out-of-three match between a late-starting Gephardt and a carefully organized Dukakis. Each had won one previously--Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses and Dukakis captured the New Hampshire primary.
The Democratic results in South Dakota with 99% of the precincts reporting: Gephardt, 44%; Dukakis, 31%; Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., 8%; Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, 6%; former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, 5%; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, 5%.
Among Republicans, Dole won with 55%, followed by Robertson with 20%; Bush, 19%; and New York Rep. Jack Kemp, 5%.
In Minnesota, with 79% of the Republican precincts reporting, Dole had 43%; Robertson, 28%; Kemp, 15%; and Bush, 11%.
With 64% of the Minnesota Democratic precincts reporting, Dukakis had 34%; Jackson, 19%; uncommitted, 19%; Simon, 18%; Gephardt, 8%; Gore and Hart, both 1%.
"Tonight is a Gephardt night," Gephardt declared to 450 supporters gathered at the Waco Convention Center in Texas. "We had a big, big victory tonight in South Dakota."
The size of the victory seemed to surprise even Gephardt's aides, who had anticipated a closer margin and were downplaying their candidate's chances just the day before.
Republican Dole, who had the two states largely to himself, called his pair of victories "fantastic progress" and said: "I hope this sends a message."
This was the first time in 1988 that two states voted on a single night. But interest in the twin elections was diminished because of the fury building in the South. Only two weeks from now is the giant Super Tuesday round of primaries--in 20 states for the Democrats and 17 for the Republicans.
Between them, Minnesota and South Dakota account for only 5% of the presidential nominating delegates. By contrast, about one-third of the delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday.
But South Dakota and Minnesota had the promise of other rewards--a chance to keep momentum, or to rebuild it, and the opportunity to call oneself a winner.
Could Get Big Boost
For Gephardt the boost could be substantial. Fund raisers are attracted to a winner, and Super Tuesday is sure to be, among other things, a battle of money.
For some of the big losers, such as Simon among the Democrats and Kemp among the Republicans, already dim hopes for the nomination faded further. Their continued participation seemed to hinge on questions of money and pride more than hope of success.
Simon spoke briefly with supporters and financial contributors in Washington Tuesday night and continued to insist that he will fight on in the Democratic race.
"This party and this nation cannot stop caring," Simon said. "If we abandon that, we abandon our soul. So that fight has to continue; we have a long trail ahead of us."
Dukakis said he had run well "right in the back yard of both Gephardt" and Sen. Paul Simon. "If we can continue to do consistently well as we did tonight, we're going to win this nomination for the presidency," he said.
'Wonderful, Exciting Victory'
Robertson described his showing as a "wonderful, exciting victory" that will give him "tremendous momentum" going into the contests in the South. He added that while he wouldn't presume to advise Kemp to drop out, he didn't think "there's any chance for Jack Kemp to go beyond this night."
For Hart, it was the second primary in a row where he finished with less than 10% of the vote, which means he must score above 20% in a primary within the next month to remain eligible for federal matching funds.
Democrats and Republicans approached the twin Midwestern elections Tuesday differently: It became a serious tussle for Democrats, a lesser one for Republicans.
For Democrats, it was a race where the candidate with the best election-day standing in the national polls--Dukakis--chose to mount extensive and elaborate campaigns in both states.
With his superior financing, Dukakis began work last August and was the only man to weather what they jokingly call Minnesota's two seasons--swat (mosquitoes) and shovel (snow).
In the end, Dukakis outspent all his rivals combined, and by a healthy margin.
Gephardt picked only South Dakota to mount a serious drive. He started late and without Dukakis' fat checkbook, seeking to accomplish in a week what it took him three years to do in neighboring Iowa--come from behind with an explosive finish.
Runs Punchy TV Ads
He accomplished it, as in Iowa, riding a tide of polished, controversial and punchy TV ads. They accused Dukakis of being one of the biggest tax raisers in Massachusetts history and ridiculed the New England governor's knowledge of farm problems.
Dukakis called them "distortions" but found himself uncomfortably on the defensive during the final days of the campaign.
He struck back with his own attack. "While Dick Gephardt has been promising to fight for you, he's taking Political Action Committee money from corporate insiders and Washington lobbyists," Dukakis advertisements shot back.
The outcome Tuesday "suggests that Gephardt's win in Iowa was based on something real, most likely real economic discontent," while Dukakis' win in Minnesota establishes him as the leading liberal in the race, said Times Political analyst William Schneider. "We're beginning to see Dukakis and Gephardt emerge as front-runners. Dukakis wins the liberal states, and Gephardt wins where there is a significant economic protest vote."
For the Republicans, front-runner Bush chose to abandon the two states.
"We're concentrating our efforts on Super Tuesday and South Carolina, so I give credit to whoever wins there and say O.K., let's go to the next one," Bush said earlier Tuesday.
Bush's Brain Trust
South Dakota was the first state where the Vice President ran television commercials, two months ago. But after beholding the size of Dole's landslide in neighboring Iowa Feb. 8, Bush's brain trust decided it was next to futile to compete in the midwestern farmlands.
Dole skillfully capitalized on many years of political associations in building his South Dakota operation and organized door-to-door in Minnesota the same as he did successfully in Iowa. The latest spending reports showed Dole spent more in Minnesota than even Dukakis.
For the Kansas senator it was an effort to regain the momentum he lost with his 9-point beating in New Hampshire a week ago. But with Bush sidestepping both contests, Dole was denied the head-to-head skirmish he wanted.
He wound up his campaign in the two states with an appeal to regionalism--accusing Bush of writing this part of the country off.
"I know the media may say, oh, Minnesota and South Dakota, they're not very important because Bush didn't show up," Dole said Tuesday. But he added: "Just because somebody didn't show up doesn't mean it wasn't important to me."
Fertile Robertson Ground
Caucus states with their low turnout and spirit of neighborly fellowship, as proved by Iowa, are fertile ground for Robertson. His campaign for the Minnesota caucuses was engineered by some of the same people who put together his second-place finish in Iowa.
However, some of them complained that Robertson forfeited the state by not campaigning here at a time when Dole was barnstorming Minnesota. "We'd do a lot better if Pat spent more time here," said one organizer.
Kemp once could claim the support of Minnesota's most important party leaders. But his shellacking in Iowa and his third-place finish in New Hampshire disheartened his organization.
Among the Democrats, the most painful defeat was Simon's.
Winless in 1988, Simon chose Minnesota to make a stand--but as the days passed toward Tuesday, Simon insisted it be called a stand on principle, not a last stand.
Jackson continued his string of noticeable mini-triumphs, beating conventional expectations among party activists in Minnesota. Conversely, Gore prepared himself to score a surprise in South Dakota but surprised only himself with a poor finish.
Republican voters in the two states had no problem with the scheduling of voting Tuesday night. But the national Democratic party tried to stop both South Dakota and Minnesota from voting until Super Tuesday or later.
'Official' Tally Sealed
In fact, the "official" tally of the presidential preferences of Minnesota caucus goers was sealed until 5 p.m. on March 8. The results given to the nation were unofficial and collected by the Minnesota secretary of state. They were a tally of not all caucus-attendees but just those chosen to attend upcoming Minnesota party conventions, where the actual presidential delegates will be elected.
In South Dakota, Democrats had to declare their primary "non-binding." that is, nominating delegates were not actually elected Tuesday. That will come later, but officials have said the final delegation will reflect Tuesday's balloting.
Next in the 1988 sweepstakes are caucuses in Maine this weekend, followed by a beauty contest primary in Vermont next Tuesday. Wyoming votes on March 5, but the eyes of the nation are sure to be focused on the Republican showdown nearly everyone expects in South Carolina that day.