Bush can't shake Buchanan Tsongas, president win Maryland

Clinton takes Georgia Primary vote is highest in 16 years

March 04, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Paul E. Tsongas won the Maryland Democratic presidential primary last night by banking heavily on early television advertising and by appealing strongly to upscale suburban voters.

In the Republican primary, voters here were itching to send President Bush the same message of discontent he received in New Hampshire and South Dakota. They didn't hesitate to use right-wing challenger Patrick J. Buchanan as their vehicle despite the Maryland GOP's history of support for Mr. Bush and other moderate Republicans.

Maryland was selecting not only presidential candidates but nominees for the U.S. Senate, for all eight congressional districts and local judges. The turnout across the state was the highest for a presidential primary in 16 years, said Gene Raynor, head of the state election board.

Mr. Tsongas had targeted Maryland as a must-win state and began airing television ads here two days before he won the New Hampshire primary. The former Massachusetts senator gained an early edge with a single issue: the so-called middle-class tax cut.

And he discovered something: If the voters of 1992 hate anything more than tax increases, it's politicians they think are slippery, politicians who cater to what they think the people want to hear.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton wanted the cut. Mr. Tsongas called it "pandering." Mr. Clinton was acting like "Santa Claus," the former senator said and giving in to the poll takers. The subtext was this: Mr. Clinton's not his own man.

When Mr. Tsongas said Americans want to be treated like adults and told the truth, audiences across the state applauded. His message was more resonant because it worked in a broader political context: President Bush, too, was accused of having no "core beliefs."

Mr. Clinton knew he was losing on this issue. But he was back on his heels. And he stayed there for more than half the campaign in Maryland -- until he began to hit back with charges that Mr. Tsongas represented Wall Street over Main Street.

Exit polling here yesterday showed Mr. Tsongas running well among the well-educated, environmentally conscious voters of the suburbs.

Mr. Tsongas took the white vote by a margin of 46 percent to 27 percent. Among blacks, he trailed Governor Clinton, 26 percent to 55 percent.

The more educated the voters, the more likely they were to vote for Mr. Tsongas. Of high school graduates who voted, according network television exit polls, 31 percent were for Mr. Tsongas. Of voters with at least some college education, 35 percent were for him. Forty-six percent of college graduates were for him, and he won the support of 57 percent of those with postgraduate education.

A 65 percent showing by President Bush suggested a further erosion of strength against Mr. Buchanan, the dogged challenger who continues on a roll of embarrassing scores against the sitting president.

In normally pro-Bush Maryland, the president finished below the 69 percent he won in South Dakota, where 31 percent of the voters preferred "uncommitted" to Mr. Bush.

His slide continued in a state with a moderate Republican base where virtually every Republican officeholder supports him at least officially. The slippage in Mr. Bush's support was attributable to unhappiness over his economic stewardship and to his breach of his 1988 "no new taxes" pledge.

In parts of Republican-rich Baltimore County, signs saying "No New Taxes" sprouted from the lawns.

Mr. Buchanan, the columnist turned presidential giant-killer, racked up close to a third of the vote without campaigning here.

Mr. Buchanan's total actually might have dropped in Maryland if he had said here what he's been saying in Georgia.

Plenty of voters were uncomfortable with Mr. Buchanan's right-wing views. The challenger's positions,

from civil rights to the federal budget, struck Ed Kennedy, a Columbia Republican, as "a little reactionary."

"There's so much unknown of what Buchanan will do if he's elected. I don't know that the country needs that kind of upset," he said.

As many as 50 percent of those Republicans polled here before the voting said they would have preferred different choices -- apparently meaning that many would have voted for someone other than Mr. Buchanan.

The governing factors in this earliest-ever primary in Maryland seemed to be anger and confusion with five candidates on the Democratic side.

Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey did not campaign here and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa trained most of his resources on Minnesota, where he hoped to score a campaign-sustaining victory. Former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. drew some protest votes with a last-minute stop in Baltimore and a strong showing in Sunday's debate at the University of Maryland -- but he did not challenge the leaders yesterday.

Many Marylanders interviewed outside polling places yesterday came close to wishing a pox on all of the candidates.

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