Dole prays Big Apple will seal victory

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Even as voters in 10 states were casting their ballots in Republican primaries and caucuses yesterday, the leading candidates were fanning out across new battlegrounds, from New York which holds its primary tomorrow to the big Southern states whose vote next Tuesday may settle the 1996 nomination.

Only Pat Buchanan stayed behind yesterday in Georgia, whose 42 convention delegates made it the biggest prize, taking his fiercely moralistic and protectionist cause to the state's radio stations in a bid to score a win and restore his credentials before "Super Tuesday".

Rattled by his poor second place in South Carolina at the weekend, Ronald Reagan's former speechwriter has been adding still more vitriol to his verbal onslaught against the front-runner, Senator Bob Dole. He has even been describing his opponent as a "liberal" - the dirtiest word in the Republican political lexicon and probably the only epithet not attached to the solidly conservative Mr Dole in the course of his 35 years in Congress.

But his rhetorical scorched earth tactics were showing scant sign of paying off. To call Mr Dole - the most plodding and cliche-mongering of candidates - a new man would be an exaggeration. But his decisive win in South Carolina, which had seemed so perfectly suited to Mr Buchanan's sternly Christian and xenophobic message, has given the 72-year-old senator a new confidence.

Yesterday he was in New York, surrounded by the customary phalanx of governors, senators and party dignitaries, and talking unabashedly of the win there tomorrow that would make his opponent's task wellnigh insuperable: "New York can do it, the other candidates won't even be able to write checks anymore," he jested in a reference to Steve Forbes, whose readiness to lash out $30m (pounds 20m) of his publishing fortune has been the main factor keeping him in the race.

On the ballot in each of New York's 31 Congressional districts, Mr Forbes has at least given Republicans the novelty of a genuinely contested primary. But although the Dole machine lost legal skirmishes to keep his rivals out, it seems to be winning the political argument, with a poll yesterday giving him 42 per cent of the vote in New York, which is double his closest rival.

And the endorsements continue to roll in, the latest in the person of New York City's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, who vowed to do everything in his power to thwart Mr Buchanan and Buchananism, which is founded in part on the view that the Big Apple is rotten to the core and a symbol of immigration's evils and moral decay. Mr Buchanan has managed to get on the ballot in half the districts, while the fourth major candidate, Lamar Alexander, has skipped the state altogether.

In all, 226 delegates were at stake yesterday, 208 in eight primaries in five New England States, Maryland and Colorado as well as Georgia, plus 18 more in caucuses in Washington state --a prize amounting to nearly a quarter of the 996 needed to win nomination at the party convention in San Diego. Virtually everywhere, Mr Dole was comfortably ahead in the polls. Even before the voting, he was starting to pull ahead in the delegate count, with 90 against 60 for Mr Forbes, 39 for Mr Buchanan and 10 for Mr Alexander.

Almost certainly, the field will soon slim. Mr Buchanan will, of course, soldier on to San Diego, buttressed by a share of 25 to 30 per cent of the Republican primary vote, which is spread evenly across the country. So too will Mr Forbes, unless or until he concludes that further spending is unjustifiable, even from a personal fortune of more than $400m.

But anything less than an astonishingly strong performance in New England would doom the campaign of Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Barring miracles, the presidential life expectancy of Mr Alexander is only a week longer.

A dismal fourth in South Carolina, behind Mr Forbes, and with dismal prospects in neighbouring Georgia, Mr Alexander will make his last stand in Florida, a state with 98 delegates, which he has cultivated for months. Unless he beats Mr Dole there on "Super Tuesday", Mr Alexander will have to fold his tent

"If he beats me there, Senator Dole is the certain nominee," he has said.

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