Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas headed for another big primary victory Thursday--this time in New York--but the triumph was marred by his growing exasperation over his inability to persuade remaining rivals to withdraw from the race or pledge to support his candidacy.
Early returns and the results of a survey of voters leaving the polls indicated that Dole, the Senate majority leader, would receive the vast majority of the 93 delegates at stake in New York.
Only moments after the polls closed, Dole declared victory, saying that he would "invite all in our party to rally around the Bob Dole banner."
"Thank you, New York," he said, speaking to his supporters there through a satellite hookup from Florida, where he was campaigning in advance of that state's primary Tuesday.
But even as he asked for party unity, Dole, in an interview with The Times, expressed frustration over Patrick J. Buchanan's continued evasiveness on the subject of whether he might lead his supporters out of the GOP.
A third-party bid by Buchanan would be a "suicide mission" that would serve only to reelect President Clinton, Dole said.
Buchanan, although remaining deliberately unclear about whether he would remain in the party and endorse his rival in the end, snapped back: "I don't need lectures from Sen. Dole or his minions about what it means to be a loyal Republican."
New York served chiefly as the first state where Dole could match his prowess head-on against millionaire Steve Forbes.
Forbes had banked his hopes and about $2.5 million on an upset in New York. But even before the polls closed he lowered his sights and said it was not crucial that he actually win. He argued it was a victory merely to get on the ballot in a state where Dole's establishment supporters had huge advantages, and Forbes predicted he would beat the point spread and do better than the 2-to-1 defeat projected by preelection polls.
Buchanan, for his part, had failed to get delegate candidates on the ballot in about one-quarter of the state's districts. Even where he was on the ballot he faced an additional problem--the same problem that he poses for the GOP nationwide: the consequences of ideological splinter parties. The heart of Buchanan's movement, hard-core conservatives and antiabortion activists, have each formed their own separate parties in New York, making them ineligible to vote in the Republican primary.
On Thursday, Buchanan preached his gospel to the Christian Academy of Knoxville, Tenn., and exhorted enthusiastic supporters to come with him and ambush the Republican Party at its nominating convention this summer in San Diego.
In mid-speech, a seminary student in the crowd interrupted him, declaring that he and other Christian conservatives had left the party and want Buchanan to do the same.
"We're not going back," shouted Eric Bonner, 25. "Don't support the nominee, Pat, don't support him."
Buchanan bellowed back: "Here's what we do. We go to San Diego, we break the doors open and we take it over."
Later, talking with reporters, Buchanan said his message to his followers was: "Let's take over the Republican Party. Let's not be walking out."
But he conspicuously avoided answering whether he would strike out on his own. And he grew testy on the subject in talking with reporters aboard his campaign bus in Florida. "I supported every Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater [in 1964]. We intend to defeat Bob Dole in a lot cleaner campaign against him than he has conducted against us. . . . We make no apologies for being robust and tough in our rhetoric."
Dole sounded his diminishing patience with such evasions.
"We're supposed to endorse him whatever he does [but] he's not certain he can endorse us," Dole complained in an interview aboard his campaign plane late Wednesday night. "If there is going to be a third party, that's his problem."
Dole added: "My view is he wouldn't do that. I don't think he wants Clinton four more years. It would be a suicide mission."
Asked if Buchanan's strong showing and superheated stump verbiage may make it more difficult to unify the party in the fall, Dole said: "All I know is he is getting less votes than he did in 1992. I think it depends on what happens with [Ross] Perot and the other people and whether or not he plans to hang around" in the Republican Party.
Ultimately, Buchanan's decision on whether to support the nominee may turn in part on whether the former TV commentator hopes to make another run for the GOP nomination in the future, Dole suggested. "He may want to try this again in four years, who knows. But if he does he probably won't burn all his bridges."
On the campaign trail in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Dole told a spirited crowd it was time for the party to rally behind him.
"I want to tell you how important this election is and how important it is that we close ranks and start working on our real political target," Dole said to the cheers of several hundred people. "That's Bill Clinton in November."
Above the applause, he shouted to Republicans: "Stop picking on each other."
Then, Dole looked ahead toward Tuesday's seven-state round of primaries.
"If we win those primaries next week," Dole said, "it seems to me it's time for the other candidates to say: 'Wait a minute. The longer we stay in this race, the more we help Bill Clinton. If we want to help Bill Clinton out of office, then we had better close ranks behind the winner, the front-runner, and that's Bob Dole . . . There's no doubt in my mind that Bob Dole's going to be the Republican nominee."
Dole began his campaign day in Miami's Little Havana, where he laid a wreath to commemorate the four men killed late last month when Cuba shot down two aircraft piloted by members of Brothers to the Rescue, an exile group here.
Appearing before an enthusiastic crowd of supporters in a Cuban restaurant, Dole called on Clinton to use U.S. laws "to indict, try and convict" the Cuban officials involved in the shoot-down.
In a letter to Clinton Thursday, Dole said Clinton should direct Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to seek the indictments under statutes providing penalties for the destruction of U.S. civilian aircraft and attacks on American citizens intended to influence government policy.
"Clearly, this action [by Cuba], falls within the statutory definition of an act of international terrorism," Dole wrote in a letter co-signed by Sen. Connie Mack of Florida and two Cuban American Republican members of Congress, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Absent an invasion of Cuba to arrest those responsible, such an indictment might be only symbolic, as even Dole suggested at one point when he said that "indicting the killers of these innocent Americans is the least we can do to honor their memory."
Dole's appearance before the staunchly Republican Cuban American crowd was as much a ritual of GOP politics here as the wooing of Jewish voters in the condominium canyons north of Miami is for Democrats. In his brief speech, Dole didn't shortchange his audience on the denunciations of Fidel Castro that are the oxygen of political life here.
"In a Dole administration, we will not cozy up to Castro," Dole said. "We will continue to tighten the screws until the freedom-loving people in Cuba enjoy the same rights and opportunities as we have in the United States."
Brownstein reported from Miami, Shogren from Knoxville, Tenn. Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers Sam Fulwood III in Orlando, Fla., Bob Sipchen in New York and John Balzar in Los Angeles.