Bob Dole ran up another string of crushing victories Tuesday and moved close to ending the battle for the Republican presidential nomination--forcing rival Steve Forbes to say he will drop out if he cannot score a breakthrough somewhere next week.
A second big loser in Tuesday's votes, Patrick J. Buchanan, scrubbed a press conference in which he had planned to comment on the primaries, but an aide said the candidate was only tired, not quitting.
Dole, whose first campaign for national office occurred 20 years ago, swept seven primaries from Florida to Oregon, winning the lion's share of the 362 delegates available--the single largest one-day delegate haul of 1996.
At a rally in Washington, where he was introduced by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a jubilant Dole gave thanks for his victories and 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 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 won all 98 delegates at stake in Florida and similarly swept the delegations of Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Buchanan eked out two delegates from Tennessee. In Texas and Oregon, which do not have winner-take-all rules, Dole nonetheless seemed assured of winning most of the delegates, bringing his overall total to well over 700--roughly three-quarters of the 996 needed to clinch the nomination.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, President Clinton, who has not yet formally declared his candidacy for reelection, nonetheless seemed poised to clinch his party's nomination. Clinton, who was without serious opposition, was slated to hit the 2,146-delegate majority needed for the Democratic nomination once results are tabulated from Hawaii, where Democrats held their party caucuses Tuesday night.
Forbes seemed off balance by the extent of his trouncing. At first, he 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."
But then the gloomy reality set in. He finished third in five states and came in fourth, behind Lamar Alexander, who withdrew from the race last week, in Alexander's home state of Tennessee. Forbes hit 20% and took second place only in Florida.
"Obviously, the results tonight are a disappointment," Forbes said late in the night when he returned to his home state of New Jersey.
At an airport news conference in Newark, flanked by his daughters Moira, 16, and Catherine, 19, the publishing heir, who back in January was on the cover of newsmagazines wearing a grin, had only a long face as he said he would try next Tuesday one last time to stage a comeback in primaries in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
"We must make a major breakthrough in one of those Midwest industrial states. If not, then this campaign will have to come to a conclusion. There is no way we can go to California without a major breakthrough next week," he said, adding that he would need "a win or something akin to win."
Forbes said he had scheduled a discussion with top advisors for today to decide where among the four states voting Tuesday to concentrate his remaining effort.
Dole and Gingrich also reached out to supporters of Buchanan.
"Come home to your team, Buchanan voters," Gingrich declared.
Buchanan said he was not yet mollified.
"I'm not quitting," he said while campaigning in Ohio.
But 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. In Texas, the largest state voting Tuesday, almost six in 10 Buchanan voters said they were "very likely" to vote for Dole in November, and another two in 10 said they were "somewhat" likely to side with Dole. Less than one in 7 ruled it out entirely.
Similarly, about eight in 10 Forbes voters said they were likely to vote for Dole in November and less than one in seven ruled it out, according to the exit poll, which was conducted 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 Dole had no new ideas.
As in other recent contests, Dole was highly successful in Texas in co-opting Buchanan's most loyal forces, the very conservative, the religious conservatives and those who favor a GOP platform advocating a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Among all three groups, Dole held a slight lead.
But the survey also laid bare the very different appeals each of the candidates have had to select groups of voters.
Dole's voters, for example, were drawn to him by his stands on the economy. More than three in 10 of his voters said the deficit was the most important issue to them. Another third were most interested in taxes and jobs. Fortunately for Dole, those were the three top interests of Texas voters, cited by a total of about three of five voters.
As for Buchanan voters, more than a third were drawn by their views on abortion, another 12% cited taxes and 12% said immigration was the most important issue to them. Buchanan's difficulty lay in the relatively low interest his issues commanded: Abortion was cited as the most important issue by 14% and immigration by only 6%.
Almost six in 10 of Forbes voters said taxes were the most important issue for them--a slam-dunk for a candidate who has crossed the country pressing a change from the graduated income tax to a 17% flat tax.
Each of the three remaining candidates brought disparate attributes to the race, voters said.
Dole's voters were drawn by the chance of beating President Clinton in November, and by the Kansas senator's Washington experience. Buchanan's were attracted by his sense of "standing up for what he believes" and by his conservative values. Forbes' voters said they liked his "vision" and the fact that he is not a career politician.
Despite the near-nomination of a longtime Washington insider, voters retain the deep skepticism about government that has fueled this volatile political year. Asked how often they trusted government to do the right thing, only about two in 10 said "most of the time." More than two-thirds of voters said they expect the right thing from government only sometimes, and one in 10 said government never does the right thing.
Dole won over all but that last category of voters. Among those who said government never does the right thing, a plurality went to Buchanan.
Even before Tuesday's voting, the Republican race had split into two different contests.
Buchanan and Forbes had 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.
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 Stays Home
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.
Forbes, however, spent the day in the Midwest, where his chief target was not Dole but 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 examples of the "unsavory or divisive forces" that have emerged because of political leaders' failure to address the voters' 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 risks losing not only the presidency but Congress--and perhaps even its own place in the two-party system.
Sipchen reported from Chicago and Shogren from Youngstown. Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Ed Chen and Sam Fulwood III in Washington and Cathleen Decker and John Balzar in Los Angeles.
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How the leading candidates did in Tuesday's contests based on nearly complete returns:
Dole Buchanan Forbes Florida % OF VOTE 57% 18% 20% DELEGATES 98 0 0 Louisiana % OF VOTE 47% 33% 13% DELEGATES 9 0 0 Miss. % OF VOTE 61% 26% 8% DELEGATES 33% 0 0 Okla. % OF VOTE 59% 22% 14% DELEGATES 38 0 0 Oregon % OF VOTE 52% 22% 13% DELEGATES 14 6 3 Tenn. % OF VOTES 51% 25% 8% DELEGATES 36 2 0 Texas % OF VOTES 56% 21% 13% DELEGATES 117 1 0 TOTAL DELEGATES 345 9 3 TOTAL TO DATE 737 71 76
996 delegates needed for nomination