Dole rides on as Republican El Cid

THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

As the Republican nomination battle moved West yesterday, the party's rattled establishment stepped up its campaign against Pat Buchanan, the victor in New Hampshire, and closed ranks around Bob Dole - faltering and uninspiring, but still President Clinton's most likely challenger this autumn.

In a fresh sign of how Mr Buchanan's stridently moralistic and populist platform is dividing the party, its most celebrated recent convert, General Colin Powell, made a rare foray into the arena, denouncing the former TV commentator's isolationist views as "wrong" and saying that he would never vote for him.

Almost simultaneously in New York, the city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, another moderate, raised anew the issue of Mr Buchanan's alleged anti- Semitism, accusing him of trying to prevent the deportation of Karl Linnas, a Nazi war criminal, in 1987 when he was communications director in the Reagan White House. Mr Buchanan, the mayor claimed, "had a whole history of protecting Nazis and trying to keep them in this country".

Meanwhile, endorsements continued to flow towards Mr Dole, despite his embarrassing setback, prompting at least one US newspaper to delve back into European legend and liken the Senate majority leader to El Cid, the medieval Spanish warrior so vital to his cause that after he died, his corpse was strapped to the saddle and sent into battle against the Moors.

Bob Dole the candidate is far from dead, however wretched his campaign has been so far. Indeed, the New Hampshire defeat could yet prove a blessing in disguise if it finally compels him to sharpen his message, set out what distinguishes him from Mr Buchanan, and truly engage what Mr Dole is calling a struggle for the "heart and soul of the Republican party".

Out on the campaign trail, however, that struggle is being won by Mr Buchanan, brimming with verve, soundbites and that priceless political commodity called momentum. Yesterday, his photo was all over television and on the front pages, at a rally at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, with the gigantic sculpted heads of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt providing the backdrop.

The criticism from within the party seems only to energise him, reinforcing his chosen image as the champion of Everyman, standing up for the values and interests of ordinary Americans, against a Washington and corporate establishment bent on destroying him. "The Republican hierarchy is risking the unity of the party - not I," Mr Buchanan said in Tucson, Arizona, yesterday.

Perceived extremism, however, has its drawbacks, in the shape of an endorsement from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist Russian politician, who hailed Mr Buchanan as "a comrade and brother in arms in the struggle for national liberation".

The late-night shows, too, are having a field day. "Pat's taking a rest before invading Poland," one host cracked.

For all his swagger, Mr Buchanan may henceforth find few places as congenial as New Hampshire. The plains states of North and South Dakota, which vote on 27 February, should be prime territory for a Kansan like Mr Dole.

Arizona, whose primary is the same day, looks more promising. But Mr Buchanan faces strong competition there from Steve Forbes, who has spent long and heavily in the state. Mr Forbes could also do well in Delaware's primary tomorrow.

None of these states, however, offers great opportunity for Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor vying with Mr Dole to carry the mainstream, anti-Buchanan banner.

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