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Buchanan Rally Boils Over in Georgia : Politics: Skirmish erupts as Jewish protesters bristle at foreign aid remarks. Bush stops off at the White House before return to campaign trail.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A rally wrapping up Patrick J. Buchanan’s campaign in Georgia turned into a pushing and shoving match Monday, punctuated by the conservative candidate’s attempt to silence a group of Jewish protesters with the admonition: “This rally is of Americans and by Americans and for the good ol’ U.S.A., my friends.”

The rally drew more than two dozen Jewish protesters, including several rabbis, as well as several white supremacists. The Jewish protesters interrupted Buchanan’s speech with shouts of “What about anti-Semitism?” and carried signs reading, “Pat: David Duke Without the Sheets"--a reference to President Bush’s other challenger for the Republican presidential nomination.

Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the National Assn. for the Advancement of White People, is not on the ballot in the state. He has urged his supporters to vote for Buchanan.

Buchanan used the forum to lash out at the federal government’s foreign aid program, from which Israel benefits more than other nations. “We’ve got to stop sending welfare checks around the world,” he said. That set off rival cheers and boos, and the brief shoving incident between supporters and opponents of Buchanan. There were no injuries or arrests.

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Buchanan has come under fire for his past comments about Israel and American Jews, including calling Congress “Israeli-occupied territory.” Erna Martino, 45, who identified herself as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, said she attended the rally because “it’s inappropriate for someone who espouses anti-Semitism to run for President of the United States.”

While Buchanan campaigned in Georgia, Bush spent the day in the White House, a now-rare stop in a two-week period of cross-country campaigning. He picked up the endorsement of an anti-abortion group, whose leaders were invited to the Oval Office for a five-minute visit.

Buchanan stepped up his attacks on Bush for failing to lead the fight to restore prayer in public schools, an issue meant to appeal to the conservative Southern constituency that is most disillusioned with the President.

“We’ve all heard George Bush talk about a constitutional amendment for prayer in public schools, but that’s his problem: He just talks about it,” Buchanan said at one rally.

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Although no polls have been made public since last week, Buchanan’s bid to challenge the President for the Republican nomination appears to have made significant inroads among conservative voters in rural areas largely ignored by Bush, local political experts said.

Blanketing Atlanta airwaves with campaign ads and hitting one small town after another in an exhausting weeklong road tour of rural Georgia, Buchanan has “completely outflanked the President in this campaign,” said Claiborne Darden, an Atlanta pollster who specializes in Southern politics.

Bush has not been nearly as aggressive as Buchanan in Georgia, waiting only until last weekend to make a brief appearance in what Darden called one of the “most disappointing, lightweight campaign efforts I have ever seen.”

Buchanan himself seemed to be in a cocky, confident form on the final day of the Georgia campaign, telling reporters he felt “like an ice skater who has done all the twirls and is now waiting for the cards to come up.”

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Of the states voting today, which include Maryland and Colorado, Georgia has been given the greatest attention by the two Republican candidates.

Darden and other independent experts doubt Buchanan can defeat Bush here but agree that he has the potential to do better than he did in New Hampshire--when he won 37%--if a significant number of conservative Democrats cross over to vote for him in the Republican primary.

Seeking to chip away at Buchanan’s support without taking him on directly, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater criticized the tenor of the opponent’s campaign Monday. Asked about a Buchanan television advertisement in Georgia, which features a scene from a documentary funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that depicts semi-clad gay men dancing in the streets, Fitzwater said: “It certainly is troublesome, the tone of destruction and divisiveness.”

Monday was Bush’s first day back in the White House in a week. He plans to resume his travel schedule--unusually hectic for an incumbent--today with a speech in Chicago to an evangelical organization. Then he will begin a tour throughout much of the South for the rest of the week leading up to the “Super Tuesday” voting on March 10.

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After the President’s meeting with the anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life Committee, the organization’s executive director, David O’Steen, told reporters outside the White House: “Bush has done more than any human being to protect unborn children. We’re trying to tell everyone: Support Mr. Bush.”

Ross reported from Georgia, and Gerstenzang reported from Washington.


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