Sen. Bob Dole won sweeping victories in at least four Republican primaries and appeared headed for more Tuesday as he reached out to supporters of his two persistent rivals, saying their ideas would be welcomed in the battle with President Clinton.
In a rally in Washington, where he was introduced by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dole claimed victory in all seven of Tuesday's primaries and he urged those who voted for his rivals to coalesce behind him.
"If you believe in hope and economic growth," he said, picking up some of Steve Forbes' favored rhetoric, "you have a home in the Dole campaign."
"The Republican Party has a nominee and his name is Bob Dole," Gingrich told the cheering crowd.
Dole asserted victory as partial returns indicated strong wins in Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Early returns and surveys of voters leaving the polls indicated Dole also was ahead in Texas and Louisiana. No returns were available for this edition from the seventh state of the night, Oregon.
The returns indicated Dole would win half or more of the vote in most of the states casting ballots Tuesday--a level that would deny any delegates to his rivals except in Oregon, which awards its delegates proportionately to each candidate's vote. All told, 362 delegates were at stake in Tuesday's voting--the biggest delegate haul of the primary season. Dole, who started the day with 392 delegates, seemed all but certain to end it with more than 700--a level that would place him about three-quarters of the way toward clinching the nomination.
Despite that, Forbes, who seemed headed for a third-place finish in most of Tuesday's primaries, insisted that "the race is not over. We're not even really in the middle of halftime yet; not even in the ninth inning yet."
"It will be a bright, sunny day next Tuesday," he said. "I intend to go for the duration."
Dole also reached out to supporters of Buchanan, saying in an interview with the Associated Press that he would stress to voters that "we as a party are concerned about the middle class and its economic worries."
That emphasis has not yet mollified Buchanan, however.
"I'm not quitting," he said while campaigning in Ohio.
Siding With Dole
Surveys of voters leaving their polling places Tuesday demonstrated that Dole's hopes of ultimately claiming Buchanan's voters as his own are rooted in reality. More than six of 10 Buchanan voters in Texas said they were "very likely" to vote for Dole in November, and another two out of 10 said they were "somewhat" likely to side with Dole. Less than one in seven ruled it out entirely.
Similarly, about eight out of 10 Forbes voters said they were likely to vote for Dole in November, and only one in 10 ruled it out, according to an exit poll by Voter News Service, a consortium of the four major television networks and the Associated Press.
The survey showed Dole with commanding leads in almost every demographic stratum--from age to income to education.
But there continued to be problems with his candidacy: Almost half of the voters said they would like to have other candidates in the race, and more than half said that Dole had no new ideas. Only about one in four said they thought he did have new ideas.
Even before Tuesday's voting, the Republican race had split into two different contests.
Buchanan and Forbes insisted upon keeping the nominating battle alive, for the sake of their ideas and the short run, if not also for the sake of ego and the fading hope of another huge 1996 electoral surprise.
At the same time, Dole was already confronted with the challenge of positioning himself for the long run--tugged toward the political center by the imperatives of the forthcoming general election campaign at the very time the most vocal and insistent elements of the GOP coalition pulled him to the right.
29 Primaries Remain
For voters, the sensation may be slightly disorienting. Commentators and political experts already are happily chewing over general election advantages and liabilities of various Dole running mates, while 29 states still wait in the queue for their say in the primary election.
On Tuesday, Dole, predictably and prudently continued to brush aside all speculation about his vice presidential running mate.
"I think first I should have the nomination locked up," he told reporters. "Then we'll be talking about the convention [in San Diego in August] and how do we fund our little operation for the next several months--things like that."
Dole also brushed aside polls that show him trailing Clinton nationally by substantial margins. "I don't think that means a thing," he said. Three polls released this week showed Dole trailing Clinton in hypothetical matchups by margins of 12 to 17 points.
Instead of campaigning Tuesday, Dole stayed home and tended to his chores as Senate majority leader. In a relaxing strategy that only a winner could afford, Dole said he would remain on Capitol Hill today too.
Buchanan and Forbes, meanwhile, campaigned Tuesday through the nation's heartland in advance of next week's round of four Midwestern primaries.
Forbes traveled from Chicago to Detroit and Milwaukee and stayed on the attack. Only this time, his chief target was not Dole but fellow dark horse Buchanan.
On one hand, Forbes attacked Buchanan as a cozy "Brooks Brothers" insider protected by his friends in the news media. On the other hand, Forbes drew a parallel between Buchanan and black nationalist Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam--describing both men as political leaders who have emerged by tapping into America's growing anger with the status quo.
The immediate task for the GOP is to sharpen its sense of direction in preparation for November's general election, Forbes argued in a question-and-answer session before the Chicago Chamber of Commerce. Otherwise, he said, the GOP risked losing not only the presidency but Congress--and perhaps even its own place in the two-party system.
Buchanan, he said, has "become the figure he's become today" by "tap[ping] into a vein of fear and uncertainty."
Until those concerns are addressed, Forbes continued, "that is the kind of political force you are going to see rising up in America--very disruptive, dangerous."
Buchanan, Forbes said, is just one case. "Farrakhan . . . is another example. We have a vacuum. Unsavory or divisive forces will rise up. And now is the time for a major party to have the debate" about the future.
Forbes described Buchanan as a man "who wears Brooks Brothers shoes, drives a Mercedes, has spent his whole life in Washington." And if did not have friends in the media, he added, "we would have crucified him by now."
Forbes Hits Gingrich
As if his attacks in recent days were not making him enough enemies, Forbes also took a verbal shot at Gingrich and his much-promoted "contract with America." The contract, which Gingrich claimed as the cornerstone of the GOP takeover of Congress, was based on focus groups, not a unifying set of principles or coherent ideology, Forbes argued.
Buchanan, for his part, also campaigned in the Midwest, reaching out to blue-collar Democrats, those voters once called Ronald Reagan Democrats.
At a steel mill in traditionally Democratic Youngstown, Ohio, Buchanan posed with the rusted shell of a long-closed blast furnace and said he understood why workers were suspicious of Republicans in particular and politicians in general.
"What we're trying to do is go over and tell these folks, 'Look, give us a chance,' " he said.
Buchanan blamed the U.S. government for the failure of Youngstown's mills and the collapse of the steel industry.
"I think the result of that is our working people paid the price of our foreign policy," Buchanan said.
An early blow to the industry, Buchanan said, was the federal government's decision to help rebuild Japan in the 1950s so it could act as a "bulwark" against China and the Soviet Union.
More recently, he contended, Mexican steel imports have flooded the U.S. market as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the devaluation of the Mexican peso.
"This is an example of the deindustrialization of America, the hollowing-out of the greatest manufacturing base the world has ever seen, the transfer towards a service economy," Buchanan said.
"If it continues, the United States is simply not going to be greatest nation on Earth in the 21st century," he said.
Buchanan's argument, however, overlooked the transformation of America's steel industry. Today, smaller mini-mills in the United States are among the most competitive and successful steel producers in the world. In 1995, the American Iron and Steel Institute said foreign imports of steel declined 14% while U.S. exports surged 18%.
Sipchen reported from Chicago and Shogren from Youngstown. Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Ed Chen in Washington and John Balzar in Los Angeles.