Top three fight over party's soul

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The Independent Online
PAT BUCHANAN, leading the pack in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a rally in Arizona that last summer's international women's conference in Peking had been a "crazy dingbat conference" overrun by bisexuals and homosexuals, writes John Carlin.

"It was a horrible thing, dreadful. It looked like the bar scene in Star Wars," he told 1,000 whooping rednecks in a high school cafeteria in the desert town of Yuma. If elected, he said, "we're going to put an end to this nonsense".

Bob Dole, the presidential choice of the Republican establishment, has been limping along, proclaiming himself, by contrast, a defender of women and racial minorities. But he has come under attack from right-wing Christians for presuming to call Mr Buchanan an extremist. Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian Coalition, accused Mr Dole of "demagoguery".

Lamar Alexander, the last remaining realistic challenger for the Republican nomination, has sought to remain above the Dole-Buchanan fray, seeking instead to shore up his purportedly moderate, caring image. Government welfare cash, he said, should be taken entirely away from Washington's hands and transferred, via state governments, to private charities. Representatives of the private charities themselves - notably America's biggest, Catholic Charities USA - pointed out that they could not do the job alone, that without the basic safety net that government provides, the poor would descend to abject misery. The people who are being regaled this week with the wit and wisdom of the three Republican presidential front-runners are the natives of Arizona, upon whom it will fall on Tuesday to cast their votes in a primary election the outcome of which Washington's political pundits are eagerly waiting to digest.

The polls show that Messrs Buchanan and Dole are running neck and neck again in a race that Mr Dole has described as a contest for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

No less significant, and far from surprising, was the result of a Time- CNN poll released on Friday that showed President Bill Clinton streets ahead of his rivals. Barely a month ago the President and Mr Dole were in a virtual dead heat. But now that the public have had an opportunity to observe Mr Dole nightly on the TV news, the polls show that Mr Clinton leads him by a margin of 52 to 39 per cent.

The President's lead over Mr Buchanan was 54-35 and over Mr Alexander 53-35. A poll of specifically Republican voters put Mr Dole comfortably ahead of his rivals: 36 per cent would pick Mr Dole, compared with 21 per cent for Mr Buchanan and 18 per cent for Mr Alexander. More than half the Republican voters polled agreed with Mr Dole's assessment that Mr Buchanan was too extreme to be president.