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Sen. Gramm Easily Wins Straw Poll in Arizona : Politics: Presidential candidate ran virtually unopposed. He had won a similar vote in Louisiana.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

The second Republican presidential straw poll of 1995 ended Saturday like the first as Texas Sen. Phil Gramm ran virtually unopposed to an easy victory, this time at an Arizona state GOP convention.

With the strong support of the state’s senior Republican officials--Sen. John McCain and Gov. Fife Symington--Gramm carried 54% of the votes in a contest that the other leading competitors for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination essentially conceded to the Texas senator.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) had his name removed from the printed ballot, and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and former Vice President Dan Quayle also sought to be removed, though the state party said they made their requests too late and kept them on the ballot.

Given that backdrop and his energetic efforts to woo delegates with letters and personal meetings, Gramm’s margin of victory struck some here as surprisingly modest. Moreover, the strong finishes of the only other two potential candidates to attend the convention might have measured appreciation for effort more than preference for 1996.

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Conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan finished second with about 13% of the vote after stirring his supporters with a trademark mix of cultural conservatism and economic nationalism, including a sharp attack on the Clinton Administration’s $40-billion loan guarantee package for Mexico.

Alan Keyes, a little-known former State Department official who is exploring a long-shot candidacy, won loud applause for a passionate denunciation of abortion. He captured about 11% of the vote.

Trailing far behind were better-known Republicans who stayed away from the event. Quayle, who spent summers in Arizona while growing up and whose family still runs a Phoenix newspaper, finished with about 5% of the vote, the same amount won by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp. Dole attracted 3% after his name was placed back into the mix by a motion from the floor.

As much as anything else, the vote showed how Gramm’s most prominent competitors are adopting a rope-a-dope response to his strategy of aggressively organizing support in these symbolic early straw polls. Straw polls are only a statement of preference. No delegates are at stake.

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Earlier this month, Gramm received a burst of attention for a lopsided victory in a Louisiana straw poll. The other candidates moving toward the 1996 race hoped to deny Gramm similar bragging rights in Arizona by staying home.

As it turned out, Gramm’s ability to trumpet the Arizona results may have been dampened anyway by his falloff from his Louisiana performance, where he garnered nearly three-fourths of the vote.

Like the Louisiana vote though, the Arizona contest demonstrated the methodical approach Gramm is taking. In Arizona, he has lined up support not only from Symington and McCain, but from four Republican members of Congress and top officials in the state House and Senate.

For his part, Gramm argued that his opponents’ refusal to compete in Arizona reflected their grudging acknowledgment of his organizational success in the state.

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Dole’s camp was sufficiently concerned that the Arizona poll could suggest momentum for Gramm that it attempted to blunt the message by funding a statewide survey of presidential preference among Arizona Republicans. That poll, conducted last week, found that on a hypothetical five-way ballot, 37% of Arizona Republicans backed Dole for the 1996 nomination, while 29% supported Quayle and only 14% backed Gramm.

In a move some have interpreted as an effort to benefit Gramm, Arizona has passed legislation attempting to move up its primary date next year to the same day as New Hampshire’s.

But some people in New Hampshire have accused him of attempting to undermine the state’s favored position for his own advantage. Gramm insists he had nothing to do with Arizona’s attempt to bump New Hampshire, but he urged Symington on Friday to throw in the towel.

Symington said Gramm persuaded him to hold Arizona’s primary one week after New Hampshire’s.

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