Bush Wins Georgia, but Buchanan Runs at 38% : Politics: The President also gets a victory in the Maryland primary and is running well in Colorado.


President Bush defeated conservative television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan in Georgia’s and Maryland’s Republican primaries Tuesday, but the large Buchanan vote and the attitude of many of his supporters underscored a split in the GOP that threatens to weaken Bush in the general election.

Fully a third of Buchanan’s supporters said they would not vote for Bush in November, according to early results of a Times exit poll in Georgia.

Final vote counts were expected to give Bush a victory in Colorado too. With 69% of the precincts reporting in Georgia, where Buchanan campaigned heavily and the President made a weekend campaign trip, Bush led Buchanan 62% to 38%. In Maryland, with 28% of the precincts in, he led Buchanan 71% to 29%. In Colorado, with 2% of the precincts in, Bush led with 66% to Buchanan’s 31%.


Buchanan’s vote totals were significant enough to spell more political trouble for Bush. Many analysts expect Buchanan to carry his fight through California’s June 2 primary and the August GOP convention in Houston. And although they give him virtually no chance of defeating the President or forcing his withdrawal, they expect him to be a constant irritant to the Bush campaign and say he could be a potent force at the convention.

“Buchanan’s already won his race by establishing himself for the 1996 election campaign,” said a leading Republican analyst and Bush adviser. “Now he has everything to gain and nothing to lose by staying in the race to the convention. At the convention he might exercise power by cutting conservative deals on the Republican platform.”

The White House quickly claimed the President’s clean sweep of the primaries represented a major political victory. But the vote totals, as one GOP analyst said, “could hardly warm the cockles of the hearts of those running Bush’s campaign.”

In a statement issued shortly after the polls closed in Georgia, Bush addressed the bittersweet quality of his victory.

While declaring that he was “seven for seven” in the primaries and “another step closer to our goal of winning every primary and caucus,” he acknowledged the substantial votes for Buchanan.

“I hear your concerns and understand your frustration with Washington,” Bush said. “I am committed to regaining your support.”


He promised to continue pushing Congress to enact his “growth initiatives” aimed at fueling the economy.

Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater conceded that Buchanan’s insurgency is hurting.

“If you talk to historians, they’ll tell you it (the challenge) is certainly not helpful,” Fitzwater told reporters in his office. “Republicans should give that some thought. . . . It is not helpful to have discontent sown by members of your own party. . . . If (conservatives) want to have an impact on government, they can do it better with George Bush than with a Democrat.”

Surveys indicated that the Georgia result, much like the New Hampshire primary that Bush won with 53% of the vote to Buchanan’s 37%, was more of a protest against the President than a groundswell for Buchanan. Half of Buchanan’s supporters said their vote was a protest; only about a third said they liked him.

In Georgia, where Buchanan outspent Bush 2-to-1 in a duel of hard-hitting negative television ads, the President drew strong support for his leadership in the war against Iraq. Bush used surrogates, including Gen. P. X. Kelley, the former U.S. Marine commandant, to attack Buchanan’s opposition to using force against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. (Buchanan supported the war once it began, however.)

Almost half of the Republican voters said the war was a factor in the way they voted, according to exit polls. And, of those who felt that way, about nine out of 10 voted for the President.

Buchanan scored heavily among voters who resented Bush’s decision to support a tax increase in 1990 after his “read my lips” no-new-taxes pledge in the 1988 campaign. About a fourth of the Republican voters said this was a factor for them, and practically all of that group supported Buchanan, who vehemently attacked Bush on the issue.


About two-thirds of the GOP voters said they believed the nation is “on the wrong track”; that group supported Buchanan over Bush by about 10 percentage points, according to exit polls.

The polls also indicated a wide gender gap, with Bush defeating Buchanan by fewer than 10 percentage points among men, but by 30 to 40 points among women.

Overall, Buchanan ran much better in Georgia than Bush strategists had expected. At the White House late Tuesday afternoon, strategists were talking up exit polls they thought showed the President with a wider margin of victory.

But the conservative commentator faces a more daunting challenge Saturday in South Carolina’s primary. Bush’s campaign is much better organized there and is directed by Republican Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr., who is also the President’s national campaign co-chairman.

Even bigger stakes are ahead next week on Super Tuesday when 11 states, including six in the South, hold Republican primaries or caucuses. The President, kept constantly on the defensive by the combative Buchanan, plans to campaign daily until then.

With his aggressive campaigning and slashing attacks on Bush, Buchanan has attracted heavy media attention, and some GOP strategists worry that if that continues, Bush will be seriously undermined in the fall.


What Bush really needs now, said a Republican pollster, is for a Democratic candidate to emerge as a clear-cut front-runner or probable winner so the media will start focusing on the general election. Once that happens, Buchanan will no longer be on center stage, he said, and Bush can start concentrating on his Democratic opposition.

Voter turnout in Georgia on Tuesday was light to moderate, but Republican turnout was heavier than usual. The state’s voters do not register by party and may request either party’s primary ballot. In 1988, 61% of primary voters cast Democratic ballots, while 39% requested Republican ballots. But more voters this year asked for GOP ballots, according to Secretary of State Max Cleland.

Several voters who identified themselves as Democrats said they had requested Republican ballots and voted for Buchanan just to send Bush a message of disapproval.

Times staff writers Sonni Effron in Atlanta and Paul Houston in Washington also contributed to this story.