Win by Forbes has Dole in the doldrums

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

The millionaire publisher Steve Forbes has kept his presidential campaign alive with a solid win in Saturday's Delaware primary, a result that only underlines the difficulties faced by Senator Bob Dole in his faltering bid for the White House.

In securing his first primary victory, Mr Forbes won 33 per cent of the vote and all 12 of the delegates which Delaware will send to the Republican convention in San Diego in August. Mr Dole came second with 27 per cent, followed by Pat Buchanan with 19 per cent and Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee Governor, with 13 per cent.

For Mr Forbes, the win in a state where he alone of the major candidates campaigned seriously was essential; anything less after the $20m (pounds 13m) he lavished on his campaign would have invited ridicule and intense pressure to withdraw, in the higher interest of forging party unity against the divisive conservatism of Mr Buchanan.

Now Mr Forbes will soldier on, siphoning off votes that will complicate Mr Dole's task in winning a nomination that barely three months ago looked a virtual certainty for him.

Instead, he has yet to win a primary, and his failure in Delaware cannot be explained by his decision, out of deference to New Hampshire, not to campaign actively in the state.

As across the country, he had lined up the local Republican establishment behind him in a state whose low-key politics should have suited him. But Mr Dole failed, just as he may fail in the two most important primaries this week, in Arizona tomorrow and in South Carolina on Saturday.

The Senate majority leader should succeed in both North and South Dakota, plains states like his native Kansas. But bad defeats in Arizona and South Carolina could be fatal, especially if reports are true that Mr Dole's primary spending will soon bump up against the $37m ceiling imposed by electoral law for candidates who accept federal matching funds.

Despite the Buchanan surge, Mr Dole remains the choice of ordinary Republican voters.

A Newsweek poll this week said 37 per cent favour him, down from 43 per cent a month earlier. Mr Buchanan has jumped from 8 to 21 per cent. Third is Mr Alexander with 14 per cent, followed by Mr Forbes with 8 per cent, down from 17 per cent a month ago.

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