Campaign blossoms into a free-for-all

February 19, 1992|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover | Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover,Staff Writers

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The 1992 presidential campaign that shaped up as a big yawn only months ago has already blossomed into a two-party donnybrook as a result of the scare thrown into President Bush in yesterday's New Hampshire primary and the prospect for an extended fight for the Democratic nomination.

Television and newspaper commentator Patrick J. Buchanan's strong showing against Mr. Bush suggests a vulnerability that the Democrats can exploit -- if they can find a winning candidate from the uncertain beginning of their search in New Hampshire.

Bush campaign strategists downplayed the closeness of the GOP primary vote as a reflection of the recession's inordinately hard impact on this state and insisted that the president will fare better as the campaign moves south.

The president said of the result that "the opponents on both sides reaped the harvest of discontent with the pace of New Hampshire's economy," adding: "I understand the message of dissatisfaction." Mr. Buchanan joyously proclaimed that "the Buchanan brigades met King George's army . . . [and] they are retreating back into Massachusetts." He now plans to concentrate his challenge next on the March 3 primary in Georgia, where an unemployment rate of about 4 percent is about half what it is in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, the White House said the president will campaign aggressively in the South between now and March 10, including at least three visits to Georgia and two or three to Maryland, which also holds a March 3 primary.

Bush strategists insisted that Mr. Buchanan simply will not be able to compete in the more than a dozen primaries in the next three weeks, and Bush campaign manager Robert Teeter predicted that the president will win every single state contest from now on.

But Mr. Buchanan said he is looking for one state where he can take the president on directly and beat him as Ronald Reagan upset President Gerald Ford in North Carolina in 1976.

Mr. Reagan won several other primaries after that but Mr. Ford was nominated anyway.

The winner of the Democratic primary here, former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, called his victory a "clear call for change." He is taking his campaign to the contests in Maryland and Washington state on March 3 in an effort to combat the argument that his New Hampshire victory was merely a reflection of regional pride.

The New Hampshire primary has often winnowed out the field, but last night's results were not so decisive, or discouraging for any declared candidate to quit the race, and none did. The write-in campaign aimed at getting another Democrat in -- Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York -- fizzled, however, as did a write-in for consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

As a result, survival was the name of the game on the Democratic side, with each of the contenders now heading for state contests, mostly in their home regions, where they hope they register a victory. Mr. Tsongas is expected to repeat his New Hampshire success in the Maine caucuses Sunday, before heading for a brief appearance in South Dakota tomorrow, where the next primary will be held Tuesday.

There, the two Midwestern contenders who battled for third place in New Hampshire, Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Tom Harkin of Iowa, have built strong organizations, have been running television ads and will compete for regional honors there. Mr. Tsongas, hoping for a lift from last night's voting, also is starting television advertising there.

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the runner-up to Mr. Tsongas here, also is focusing on Georgia as the start of his effort to establish himself as the strongest candidate in the South, where eight states including Texas and Florida will hold contests on Super Tuesday, March 10.

The fifth declared candidate, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California, provided a mild surprise by staying close to the pack in New Hampshire, vowing to continue his low-budget campaign.

This diffusing of Democratic campaign activity among several states probably means that there will be few or no knockouts until Super Tuesday, with the primaries in the large industrial states of Illinois and Michigan on March 17 then looming as critical tests where none of the candidates will have a clear regional edge.

Although President Bush and Mr. Tsongas won the most votes last night in their respective parties, the men who came in second -- Republican Buchanan and Democrat Clinton -- had showings that most likely will prolong the competition in their respective parties.

Mr. Buchanan's performance guarantees that he will have the campaign funds and support to carry the fight to the president in the South. There, Mr. Buchanan is counting on traditional conservative support to counter the incumbent's advantages, including the popularity of his conduct of the Persian Gulf War, the start of which Mr. Buchanan opposed. In New Hampshire, the war issue did not appear to help Mr. Bush very much, so dominant was concern about the depth of the recession here.

A third Republican candidate, former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana state legislator David Duke has filed in several southern primaries but is not expected to be a serious factor, unless he succeeds in sidetracking Mr. Buchanan in a battle for right-wing support. Mr. Buchanan, who displays contempt for Mr. Duke as a usurper of his campaign themes, has vowed not to be detoured by him.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Clinton, billing himself as "the comeback kid" who showed "I can take a punch" in finishing second in New Hampshire, did recover somewhat from the allegations of womanizing and draft-dodging that he denied but nevertheless rocked his campaign here.

In exit polls taken jointly by four television networks, most voters said that the charges against Mr. Clinton did not affect how they voted. Another test of the draft issue will come in the primaries in the South, where patriotism and military service have always been held in high esteem.

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