Wilder westerners welcome Buchanan

US Presidential Elections
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The Independent Online

Kingman, Arizona

Guns and taxes are on the menu at Mr D's, a diner deep in the heart of conservative back country. The annual ''ham hunt'' finished yesterday, when residents of north-western Arizona take off into the desert scrub after wild pig, traditionally armed only with handguns, bows and muzzle- loaders.

"I don't want them to come and take the guns away," said Chris Kimrey, an off-duty fireman who in his time has downed coyote and rabbit with a pistol. In the diner off old Route 66, Republicans voting in Tuesday's primary dismiss Senator Bob Dole as "Slick Willie in a different wrapper".

Kingman is not quite as wild as it was last April. Then FBI agents and the journalists pursuing them flooded the cheap motels on Andy Devine Road, named for the local hero who played plump cowboys in B westerns opposite Roy Rogers. Restaurants have taken to hanging "no guns allowed" signs, much to the disgust of Walt "Mac" McCarty.

The ex-Marine gave shooting classes to Tim McVeigh, the accused Oklahoma City bomber who hung out in Kingman for months with his army buddy, Michael Fortier, before heading east. If Mr McCarty can be bothered to leave his desert shack on Tuesday, he will vote for Pat Buchanan.

"He's the closest to the way I feel," he said, "though he don't have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected".

Senator Phil Gramm, with his stalwart conservatism and his unimpeachable anti-abortion record, pulled out of the presidential race after he failed to generate any enthusiasm in Iowa or New Hampshire. But in Arizona the Republican establishment embraced him. The state moved its primary forward to be first in the West, and had hoped to catapult Mr Gramm into contention. His withdrawal has left a vacuum which Mr Buchanan is well poised to exploit, party leaders believe.

"Phil Gramm was my guy and when he quit, he left me alone," said Bernice Roberts, party chairman in Maricopa County, which includes the burgeoning city of Phoenix and half of Arizona's 4 million people.

She is unsure which way to jump, along with most of the state's Republicans, according to polls. The old West and the new meet in Arizona, the only state that has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1948, and the primary, with 37 delegates up for grabs in a winner-take-all vote, is touted as a bellwether for the region.

It is one of America's fastest-growing states, a favoured destination for Californian exiles. Its southern neighbour, Mexico, has become the number one export market for a growing high technology sector.

Mr Buchanan was booed on Thursday at a civic parade in Tucson, the state's most liberal big city, with a large minority of Mexican immigrants. His anti-immigrant call for walling off the Mexican border has alarmed Arizona's corporate chiefs, who have moved to the free-trader, Steve Forbes.

But Kingman, sitting on a crossroads between Las Vegas and Phoenix, is fertile Buchanan territory. Tourists pass through on their way to the Grand Canyon, which like about 90 per cent of Arizona's land is owned and run by the US government.

When the federal treasury ran out of money in the budget crisis this winter, the park was closed, and President Bill Clinton is roundly blamed for it locally. The incident has spurred on a longstanding gripe in Western states, where conservatives now demand the "return" of huge tracts of federal land.

Kingman's Mr Republican is Roy Dunton, who moved to the city in 1939 to work on his uncle's gold mine and graduated to own a car dealership and Mr D's. The local party chairman has opted for Mr Forbes's flat-tax message, but fields angry messages from Buchanan supporters.

"Pat is telling the American people what they want to hear," he said, "but taxes is the root of all evil in Big Government.''