Buchanan preaches to the converted Old classmates rally round the candidate

February 07, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Correspondent

BETHESDA -- As many as 300 people who "knew him when" turned out here last night to hail Patrick J. Buchanan, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Buchanan's classmates from Blessed Sacrament elementary, Gonzaga High and Georgetown University paid $100 a couple to hear a stump speech from the conservative columnist who wants to unseat President George Bush.

Even if he doesn't win, his friends said, he carries their old school colors with pride. He may not win, a few of them said, but he could force the president to move a little closer to the conservative fold.

"I think we have a fighting chance to send a message out of New Hampshire that there's a new generation of leaders ready to take over the Republican Party," Mr. Buchanan said.

Though some analysts of the Feb. 18 New Hampshire primary say that Mr. Buchanan's bid has stalled a bit, the candidate said he has upgraded his own chances from "long, long, long shot" to merely "long."

"We've got a long shot to go the distance," he said, saying he expects to continue the fight in Maryland's presidential primary on March 3 and in other states.

For many in his audience at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad meeting hall last night, however, winning or losing was not the issue.

"You'll never meet a better guy," said Jack O'Connell, a high-tech program manager who lives in Rockville. When the two men were classmates at Gonzaga High School, he said, "Pat was at the top of the class."

John J. Delaney, a little older than the 53-year-old candidate, said Mr. Buchanan promises the vision that is missing in the White House. "We're not getting vision on Capitol Hill. We're not getting it in the White House. We have a major economic problem in this country and no one has an idea of what to do. I think Pat has a vision -- a country more open to private enterprise, a country with a smaller government, a country of individual accountability."

Mr. Delaney said he finds President Bush's speeches have begun to seem like an echo of Mr. Buchanan's message. The problem, he said, is that the president's election year conversion seems awkward and its sincerity may be challenged.

In his recent State of the Union address, Mr. Delaney said, "George was running against himself, railing against too much regulation in government, too much spending" -- all of it in Mr. Bush's own government.

Before his multiple class reunion last night, Mr. Buchanan spoke briefly to more than 100 supporters at Nantucket Landing, a bar on Elm Street in Bethesda. There, he signed copies of his book, "Right From The Start," spoke briefly, and kissed the infant son of his Maryland campaign manager, Seth Stein.

The baby's name is Patrick Buchanan Stein.

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