Millionaire throws US election wide open

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The Independent Online

Manchester, New Hampshire

The multi-millionaire political novice, Steve Forbes, threatened yesterday to re-write the script of the US presidential election by taking a comprehensive opinion poll lead in New Hampshire, scene of the crucial first primary later this month.

A new poll in the state showed the Republican Senate leader, Robert Dole, long considered the Republican favourite to challenge President Clinton in November, falling nine points behind Mr Forbes.

The poll, published by the Boston Globe and a Boston television station, gave Mr Forbes the support of 31 per cent of Republican voters and Mr Dole 22 per cent.

One poll last week showed Mr Forbes edging ahead but another showed Mr Dole still in the lead. Much may change before voting day on 20 February. But the Boston Globe poll provides new evidence that Mr Dole, 72, may suffer a devastating crash landing.

"Forbes maintains tremendous momentum. He continues to grow as the Dole campaign basically collapses," said Gerry Chervinsky of KRC Communications Research, which conducted the survey. He warned, however, that support for Mr Forbes remained fragile and could quickly ebb away.

Mr Forbes, son of the flamboyant magazine publisher, Malcolm Forbes, has jammed the state's television stations with aggressive advertising, paid for from his own pocket and much of it targeted at Mr Dole.

His most vaunted proposal - to replace the entire US tax code with a single-rate flat tax of 17 per cent for all individuals and businesses - is losing some of its earlier support.

One potentially serious threat to Mr Forbes surfaced yesterday, with a report that the Federal Election Commission is questioning whether his campaign has taken thousands of dollars in illegal contributions from his publishing empire, Forbes Inc. Mr Forbes has contended that his effort has been funded entirely by his personal fortune.

But New Hampshire voters, beginning to focus on the election for the first time, are turning away from Senator Dole in droves. They point to concern about his age - he would be the oldest first term President ever - and his lacklustre reply to Mr Clinton's State of the Union address last week.

Campaigning in New Hampshire in the last few days, Mr Dole has barely mentioned Mr Forbes. But questioned by reporters about his rival, he noted: "It's like a new restaurant opening and everyone rushes down to see what they're serving, but then they find that the gravy isn't that good."

Dole stumbles on, page 12 News analysis, page 17