Campaign Roller Coaster

February 19, 1992

The New Hampshire primary so thoroughly muddled the presidential campaign outlook that other leading Democrats will be powerfully tempted to enter the race. Conservative Patrick J. Buchanan's strong challenge to President Bush left the Republicans with a wounded leader in the White House but no plausible alternative to take his place at the top of the GOP ticket. As a result, attention during the next fortnight leading up to the Maryland primary March 3 will probably focus on a furious scramble among the Democrats.

Paul E. Tsongas, the self-described "pro-business liberal" who came from out of nowhere to win the Democratic runoff in New Hampshire, is in Maryland today in a bid to keep his Cinderella candidacy alive. Here and in South Dakota next week the former Massachusetts senator has to prove he is more than a regional candidate. His chief rival in New Hampshire, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, has to prove something quite different that his standing in his native South gives him a home base for a national following.

Haunting Messrs. Tsongas and Clinton, as well as also-rans Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin and Jerry Brown, is the lively prospect of late entries by "first-tier" candidates who opted out earlier, figuring Mr. Bush was shoo-in. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (whose write-in effort in New Hampshire proved lackluster), Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee and House majority leader Richard Gephardt are under intense pressure. Even Jesse Jackson is reconsidering.

The campaign thus is in its roller-coaster phase, and may in the end present the Democrats with their first wide-open convention in 40 years. For Mr. Tsongas, the prospect of new rivals can hardly be daunting because he, himself, has said he never dared to dream he would come out of retirement and out of a serious bout with cancer to win the nation's first 1992 primary.

For weeks, he was dismissed and sent to the rear in political speculation. But his low-key demeanor and emphasis on what really needs to be done to revive the economy resonated well in recession-hit New Hampshire. The issues that helped Mr. Tsongas gravely undercut Mr. Bush and gave Mr. Buchanan a chance to run an "America First" campaign stressing protectionism and isolationism. As a result, the battling TV commentator won a stunning 40-plus percent of the Republican vote in New Hampshire, only a few points short of the Ronald Reagan challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976.

The combative TV commentator is not likely to win the GOP nomination and no other leading Republican stands ready to enter the fray. So, after New Hampshire, it is still George Bush DTC against a Democratic field that is wild and wide open. Maryland, which considers itself "America in Miniature," will now take New Hampshire's place as the state under the political microscope.

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