Party machine bags NY for Dole

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The Independent Online

New York

The pundits are calling it the "drive-by primary" because there has been so little time for actual campaigning. Drive-by shooting might be more apt. When voters in New York go to the polls today to vote in the Republican nomination race, the rat-a-tat of verbal gunfire will be in their ears.

No one would expect it to be any different; politics in the Empire State have never been genteel. Remember four years ago, when the Democrats were agonising over their candidate for the White House? It is was here Bill Clinton admitted smoking pot but not inhaling.

Taking most of the bullets this time, oddly, has been a man who is not even running for president. But the bespectacled Alfonse D'Amato, the senior senator from New York and self-declared leader of the state's Republican Party has been accused of Soviet-style machinations designed to guarantee Bob Dole wins in the state, come what may.

Mr D'Amato's first trick was to defend patently undemocratic party rules that made it almost impossible for anyone other than Mr Dole to make it to the ballot. That tactic was ruled out of order by the courts last week, giving just enough time for Steve Forbes to qualify in all 31 of New York's electoral districts and Pat Buchanan in only 23.

But Mr D'Amato still has the cards and so too, therefore, does Mr Dole. When they enter the polling booths today, voters in New York will not be voting directly for the candidates but for the delegates each wants to send to the Republican convention. The delegates for Mr Dole are almost all high-profile and often popular names in their local districts. Messrs Forbes and Buchanan have had to scrape together delegates who are mostly unknown.

"It is like an Eastern European election in the 1950s," thundered Mr Buchanan in a campaign appearance in Buffalo, in the north of the state. (Because of his less than overwhelming appeal to ethnic voters, Mr Buchanan has not come within 300 miles of New York City).

Mr Buchanan, meanwhile, has opened a second front against the Republican Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, who has taken a blunt anyone-but-Buchanan position. "Mayor Giuliani has had personal problems with me ever since I wrote columns severely critical of him," Mr Buchanan said.

Mr D'Amato, whose other full-time job is keeping the Whitewater affair alive as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has made sure that whenever Mr Dole has appeared in the state he has been flanked by the mighty of the party, notably by Mr D'Amato himself and Governor George Pataki. A rally for Mr Dole in Franklin Square, Long Island, two nights ago, was a show-case for the party machine, gently purring.

"Isn't he dynamic, ladies and gentleman," declared Joseph Mondello, the chairman of the Nassau County Republicans, introducing the candidate. Honest answer: No. Party answer: Yes, sir-ree.

And the machine is about to deliver. Yesterday both Daily News and the New York Post joined in endorsing Mr Dole and the eve-of-voting polls all put the senator ahead of his foes.